(click to enlarge image)
Notice this locomotive is labelled "James Callanan"
Des Moines & Minnesota No. 3, an ungainly Danforth 2-6-0 of 1875,
bore the name of the railroad's president, James Callanan. Not of
a self-effacing nature, Callanan also named the line's northern terminus
In addition to his business interests, Callanan was interested in
education. He was a liberal giver to The Home for the Aged,
Penn College in Oskaloosa, and was president of the Iowa
Humane Society. He donated land to Mercy Hospital
which was later sold to the Des Moines Schools. Callanan Junior High
was named for him. It is now called Callanan Middle School.
He also founded a normal College, then Callanan Normal College. After
a fire destroyed part of the building, the college was moved to Drake University,
to which he was also a donor. Eventually, Callanan Normal College
became the College of Education of Drake. James Callanan also
was important for his donations for the start of Iowa Methodist Hospital.
Mr. Callanan died in Des Moines in 1904. Read
news articles about James Callanan, the man whose name was used for
the first platted town in southeast Hamilton County.
(image from the Thomas T. Taber collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania)
(This news article may be enlarged with a click - it
is also written below:)
Callanan - A Town Forgotten
In early 1878, the four townships in the southeast part of Hamilton
County, Lyon, Lincoln, Ellsworth and Scott, voted themselves a 5% tax to
induce a railroad to come to their area. The stipulation they made
was that any railroad must pass within a mile of the intersection of the
About this time, a Des Moines businessman, investor, and banker James
Callanan, was building a narrow gauge railroad north from Des Moines.
He was the president of the Des Moines and Minneapolis Railroad.
HIs railroad had already entered Ames, so he was persuaded to extend his
line to the area. He selected a site for the depot which was only
one-half mile west of the intersection. The town was to be named
Lakin, for Luther Lakin, but the townspeople chose to name the town Callanan
to honor the president of the railroad. Callaqnan was located exactly
three miles south of Lakin's Grove.
Callanan was an important person in Des Moines. He was born
in Albany Co., New York, in 1820. He was admitted to the bar in 1847
and practiced law in Albany. In 1857 he came to Des Moines and founded
a co-partnership with Col. Ingham and opened a banking house called Callanan
The railroad produced a time-table which announced two trains daily,
one arriving and one departing. Tracks forming a Y west of town (atop
the hill on the west side of the Skunk River) allowed the train to turn
around. The 1880 map with shows the four townships and the location
of Callanan, the Y, and Lakins' Grove. Jewell Junction and Ellsworth
did not exist at this time, but the Ranall Post Office did exist.
The "Freeman" of May 29, 1878 announced Callanan, the station on
the DM & M RR at the Four Corners, is improving quite rapidly at present.
The town had been platted just a month earlier in April, 1878. The
plat consisted of four blocks with north-south streets named River, Main,
Everitt, Scott, and Lyon. The only east-west street was named Lincoln.
The Callanan post office was opened on April 10, 1878 with David
W. Schoonmaker as the postmaster. He was also the depot agent, and
the mail was kept in the depot. A dispute about the post office was
written in the "Herald", the Callanan newspaper of Dec. 14, 1878.
The editor, Frank H. Bell, complained that Lakin's Grove lost its post
office because Schoonmaker held up all mail from Lakin's Grove to increase
the count mailed from Callanan. This dispute continued between Bell
and Schoonmaker. The Herald reported that when a subscriber asked
Schoonmaker if the Herald was played out. He replied, "No, but
it ought to be."
The "Freeman" of May 29, 1878, continued describing this new
town, "It already has a hardware store with S. J Palmer, proprietor,
two dry goods stores operated by W. A. Richards and Bros., and S. G. Johnson,
a shoe store, a hotel under construction, and that sure follower of the
track of civilization, a saloon."
If you cannot read this sign, click on the image to see a clearer
(enlarge with a click - or read below:)
It also reported that 16 carloads of grain and stock were shipped
from Callanan, and five carloads of merchansdise were shipped in during
one week. The trains came north on the west side of the Skunk River,
then crossed the river, and ran up a slope to the town. Sometimes
the engineer did not have enough speed, and the loaded train could not
make the grade. Then the engineer backed down a long way and made
another run at higher speed.
At its highest point, Callanan numbered about 200 people. The
business register showed two surgeons, several contractors, a hotel, a
boarding house, three painters, a hardware store, a drug store, two dry
goods stores, a pool hall, a barber shop, a brickyard, a blacksmith shop,
a carriage and wagon shop, and a meat market. Charles Lakin was the
town barber. He ran the pool hall in the same location and also sold
coal, hair, lime, and farm machinery.
On June 26, 1878, "Freeman" reported on the planned celebration
of a "Regular Seventy-Six time in this little city of the 4th of July."
The "Freeman" turned out the flyers which announced "the program
of the occasion - wich will be made up of cannon firing at daybreak, orations
by speakers from abroad, balloon ascension at 3 in the afternoon, and a
display of fire works in the evening. A Des Moines brass band will
furnish the music. A basket dinner, toasts, responese, ball playing,
foot racing, callathumpian displays, concluding with dancing in the evening."
This same paper announced that Callanan had erected fully a dozen
buildings and has cellars and foundations laid for a hotel and three more
residences. The article ended with the editor stating, "Callanan
will be one of the most important little towns in the county."
The little narrow gauge line was the means of bringing many excursion
parties from Ames and Des Moines for a weekend of parying and drinking
in the beautiful wooded area. Every mention of the town gives an
indication that liquor flowed freely at all times, and when some sober
citizens expressed concern for the future of thier town, the residents
were quickly told that this was good for business and the furure prosperity
of the town. This atmosphere contributed to two murders being committed
during the very short life of the town.
A shooting ws reported in the "Freemen" on July 8, 1879.
The shooting took place at the 4th of July celebrations. As the train
was pulling out of the depot, John Anderson thrust his hand out of the
car window and fired two shots into the crowd on the platform. Both
balls struck Jacob Hank, who was standing in the crowd, one hitting him
in the groin and the other in his leg. Justice Black, of Callanan,
conducted a hearing, and Anderson was held on bond of $2,000 for the Grand
Jury. The general belief was that Anderson had been drinking freely
during the day, drew his revolver and dired it without stopping to see
where it was pointed.
The Des Moines & Minneapolis Railroad when into
bankruptcy, and all effors to continue the line north ceased. The
Toledo and North Western RR took over the bankrupt line and on May 28,
1879 it was reported that C. C. Whitten, Esq., of Toledo, Iowa was in Webster
city. He was the right-of-way agent of the Toledo & North Western.
He reported that everything was favorable for an extension of the line
to Webster City. By May of 1880, the line was opened to Ellsworth
and Jewell Junction. The narrow gauge track was repoaced with standard
gauge track for the entire way. (Tracks for the narrow gauge were
set 3 foot apart and was a cheaper way to lay out a railroad.) The
engine and cars were smaller. Standard gauge had tracks that were
4 foot, 8 and one-half inches wide. It was later learned that the
Toledo & North Western RR was really a front for the Chicago &
Northwestern Railroad. This line bypassed Callanan, which rapidly
declined in importance. Most of the residents moved to Ellsworth
or Jewell Junction. The town of Kamrar was laid out and the train
came into Webster City of December 6, 1880.
In addition to his business interests, Callanan was
interested in education. He was a liberal giver to The Home
for the Aged, Penn College in Oskaloosa, and was president of
the Iowa Humane Society. He donated land to Methodist Hospital,
which was later sold to the Des Moines Schools. Callanan
Junior High was named for him. It is now called Callanan
Middle School. He also founded a normal college where teachers
were trained. It was first called Callanan College, then Callanan
Normal College. After a fire detroyed part of the building, the
collge was moved to Drake University, to which he was also a donor.
Eventually, the Callanan Normal College became the College of Education
of Drake. Mr. Callanan died in Des Moines in 1904.
(This was printed in the Freeman Journal and the text can
also be found at this address:
The settlement of Callanan was located near today's intersection
of Tollman Avenue and 340th Street.
Today, two signs mark that corner where Callanan once existed.
Directly North across the 340th is where North Callanan would have been.
Today, the Skunk River in the Callanan area has a bridge across the
Skunk River. However, this Skunk River bridge was not the railroad
bridge crossing the river so that trains could go up the hill, cross Tollman
Avenue, and be at the Callanan depot.
The grade up the hill was steep enough that as the train
crossed the river to approach Callanan, the engineer needed to head around
the turn and go up the hill at full throttle. If the attempt was
not successful, the train wuld have to back down and make another run.
The Ellsworth depot is not the only surviving relic of Callanan.
Read the next page to find why more Callanan materials still survive
Next Callanan Page (4)