The restored depot was originally built in 1899 for the Chicago Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (the "Rock Island"), one of 15 rail lines serving Council Bluffs. The last Rock Island passenger trained pulled out of the depot on May 31, 1970. March 31, 1980 was the last day of operations for the Rock Island Railroad.
Engineer Grenville M. Dodge surveyed the westward route of the Rock Island Railroad to Council Bluffs in 1853. Years later, Dodge would survey the route west from Council Bluffs that enabled the city to become the eastern terminus of the transcontinental railroad.
The construction of the transcontinental railroad played a major role in the development of southwest Iowa, and vice-versa. The history of this era is well preserved in our depot and museum. It is the last survivor of a half-dozen passenger depots which at one time dotted the Council Bluffs landscape.
In 1984 the Society and the Greater Omaha Society of Model Railroad Engineers (GOSOME) joined forces with Council Bluffs to save one of the last remaining depots in Council Bluffs. In 1985, the City of Council Bluffs leased the Depot to the Society with instructions to restore the Depot into a tourist attraction and information center. On July 21, 1995, the Depot was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The renovation of the Depot and transformation into the RailsWest Railroad Museum took great effort. There was much rotted wood, much of the tile roof needed replacement, and a complete interior renovation was necessary. GOSOME relocated its extensive HO scale model railroad display from Omaha’s Western Heritage Museum, which was undergoing renovations of its own. Today the GOSOME display is located in the former freight section of the depot.
The RailsWest Railroad Museum is located in the former waiting rooms. There was a separate south waiting room for women and children, and north waiting room for men. The Museum includes a gift shop, railroad artifacts and exhibits, and the former ticket office.
The Museum has displays of dining car silverware, a telegraph office, and memorabilia such as porters' uniforms and ticket stubs. It has a large collection of daily newspapers chronicling the rise and fall of the railroads.
RailsWest Railroad Museum
16th Avenue and South Main Street, Council Bluffs, Iowa
The museum is currently closed for the season and will reopen May 6. Hours will be 1-4 on Thursdays and Fridays. To arrange group tours please phone or e-mail.
Historical Society of Pottawattamie County members: Free
Seniors (60 & over) and AAA Members: $6.00
Ages 6 - 12: $5.00
Ages 5 and under free
The Chicago Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Passenger Depot was constructed in 1899 on the south edge of downtown Council Bluffs and today is operated as a museum and model railroad display.
Historical Society of
County Seat Council Bluffs, Iowa
Learn more at our Facebook page dedicated to Council Bluffs railroads.
Click here to read more about the history of the depot and railroading in Council Bluffs and Pottawattamie County.