The communities of Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Omaha, Nebraska, would forever be changed by a single decision made by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. That was the year the president named Council Bluffs as the eastern terminus for Union Pacific, altering that community and Omaha — and, in fact, every community — along the railroad’s western path.
Despite this presidential declaration, there were other forces at play. Union Pacific's first vice president and general manager, Thomas C. "Doc" Durant, used his influence to make Omaha — and not Council Bluffs, Iowa — the actual starting point. Union Pacific marked the occasion with a groundbreaking ceremony at the Omaha settlement in Nebraska Territory Dec. 2, 1863. A lack of funding delayed the project’s beginning for a short while, but on July 10, 1865, the first rail was finally laid. In 1872, the two communities were united for the first time when a railroad bridge was completed across the Missouri River.
The railroad's effect on both communities has been extraordinary. Council Bluffs grew from a small, isolated Missouri River town to Iowa's fifth largest city. The same robust growth has taken place in Omaha. Settlers and immigrants poured into the area beginning more than a century ago, and today this vibrant city has a population of nearly 500,000. This growth was spurred in great part by the passage of the Homestead Act in 1862, and the transcontinental railroad’s completion in 1869. Omaha has been Union Pacific's operational headquarters since the 1860s, and its 19-story headquarters in the downtown area employs nearly 4,000 employees. Omaha also is home to UP’s Harriman Dispatching Center, one of the country's largest and most technologically advanced dispatching facilities.
See all Golden Spike community events