With a longtime interest in building a transcontinental railroad, Lincoln sought out Grenville Mellen Dodge while visiting Council Bluffs, Iowa, in 1859. He knew Dodge had extensively surveyed west of the Missouri River, and at a meeting in the Pacific Hotel he asked the railroad engineer about the best route to the Pacific. Dodge recommended the Platte Valley route based on experience, and Lincoln took his word as gospel.
A year later, Lincoln was elected president, and three years after that, Lincoln signed an executive order that officially designated Council Bluffs the eastern terminus for the rail line linking east and west.
Dodge would go on to distinguish himself during the U.S. Civil War, initially commanding the Fourth Iowa Infantry, rising through the ranks from captain to general. When the war ended in 1865, Dodge returned to Council Bluffs and eventually took a job as surveyor and chief engineer of the Union Pacific Railroad.
The first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, fulfilling Lincoln’s vision and forever transforming North America and shaping U.S. history into the 20th century and beyond.
In 1911, to commemorate Lincoln’s crucial 1859 visit, the stone obelisk was erected on the spot where Lincoln stood, looking west across the Missouri River Valley and dreaming of a transcontinental railroad.
Know Before You Go
The Lincoln Monument in Council Bluffs, IA is accesssible to the public located just west of Fairview Cemetery at the western end of Lafayette Avenue.