The Narrow Gauge Railroad
The story of the Bellevue-Cascade Railroad, affectionately known as the Slim Princess, is one of the most colorful chapters of Jackson County history. The little line operated from 1868 until 1936, was 36 miles in length, and only 36” inches separated the rails, thus the 36x36x36, but it was critical to those living in the northern townships of the county. With roads either non-existent or impassible, it was their only transportation and means of getting their goods to market. It carried passengers, livestock, grain and mail between Bellevue and Cascade, and twice each day stopped at the Depot in LaMotte.
The original 1876 depot burned in a tragic fire in 1910, but was rebuilt on the same spot the following year. It was a busy place for the next 25 years, when the blizzards of 1936 – and the effects of the Great Depression closed the line for good. The little Milwaukee depot sat deserted until 1994, when purchased and restored by Rick and Dixie Clasen. Then in 2015, the land on which it sat was sold – and the building donated to the Historical Society. It was moved 20 miles to the Clinton Engines Site in Maquoketa.
With the help of many donations and a $10,000 Special Projects Grant from the DAR, volunteers dubbed the Depot Guys, are spending untold hours restoring the depot. A cedar shingle roof was finished just as the snow began to fly last winter. Now the original bricks have been replaced making a functional chimney – and the train platform is being paved with the Capital bricks brought from LaMotte. Boards will be milled to replace any that are deteriorating, window frames repaired, and the building scraped, primed and repainted. Telegraph poles will be erected and the telegraph system made operational once more.
Inside, black stovepipe will be installed and the 2 pot-bellied stoves fired up so that over the winter work can proceed within as the original wood is cleaned and restored, and the maple floor in the passenger and railroad agents rooms spruced up. Over 250 artifacts are being cataloged and refurbished so they can be moved back into the depot when the restoration work is complete.
The Society hopes to purchase the 5 acres of original Clinton land to the east to continue to plant corn with the help of Jackson County Horse and Harness – thus the view from the depot is almost exactly what it would have been in 1910 LaMotte.
As one can readily see, there is a lot of enthusiasm for this project. Volunteers are always welcome – so hop aboard and enjoy the ride!