History for Lunch shares local history


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The State Historical Society hosted a presentation of in-depth Iowa history related to the Iowa passenger rail system, targeted to an audience from all across the state as a part of its History for Lunch series.

The program is the result of an effort by the State Historical Society to get people interested in the history of their state and country, said Mary Bennett, organizer of History for Lunch.

“It’s a way to share knowledge, and entice people in to dig deeper,” she said. “We want to promote the use of our collections and our building.”

This particular talk featured Thomas Schulein, associate professor emeritus in Operative Dentistry at the UI, as its keynote speaker.

Despite his academic background, Schulein considers himself a lay historian.

“I’ve always had an interest in history,” Schulein said. “I find a great deal of satisfaction in learning all this history and then getting to share it with others. There’s a lot of neat history around the Iowa City area, and we are simply trying to garner more interest in it.”

Schulein said Iowa City has a particularly rich railroad history, with its first passenger rail dating back to 1855. The rails have since played an integral role in helping the Mormons in their mass trek to Utah, transporting John Brown and his stolen slaves to their freedom and being a catalyst for the flourishing Iowa economy in the late 19th century.

“Iowa City was the end of the line for quite awhile, so in that sense it was central to the Midwest railroad lines,” he said.

Amanda Martin, freight and passenger policy coordinator for the Iowa Department of Transportation, said today’s Iowa passenger line network has significantly decreased. Only two passenger rails continue operation in Southern Iowa; Amtrak’s California Zephyr and Southwest Chief lines.

However, she said this could soon change, as plans are being worked out for a long distance passenger line from Chicago to Omaha, with a stop in Iowa City.

“[The line] would be particularly useful for the high concentration of Chicago students at the UI, as well as folks who travel back and forth often for business,” Martin said.

Illinois and Iowa would split the cost of the railroad, with Illinois responsible for the stretch from Chicago to Moline and Iowa covering Moline to Omaha, according to the Midwest Regional Railroad Initiative, a cooperative formed in 1996 that aims to increase utility of railroads in the Midwest.

“The analysis should be completed sometime in the next two years, and the final design will begin after that,” Martin said.

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