Exploring Council Bluffs
24 Jul 2008
|From On-Ur-Wa RV Park – Onawa, Iowa
Our destination today was Council Bluffs, Iowa about 60 miles from our RV Park. It had rained overnight and was still a light rain as we started out this morning. However, the places on our agenda to see were indoors so the rain had little effect on our day.
First stop was the Kanesville Tabernacle. As we entered the Visitor’s Center we were given a verbal account of the 1846 Mormon migration to the Great Salt Lake Valley of 12,000 members from their beloved city of Nauvoo, Illinois to Kanesville, Iowa as it was known at that time.
The name of the city was changed to Council Bluffs in 1853. Lewis and Clark later met with Missouri and Otoe Indians ten miles north of Omaha. This historic council in the bluffs provided the model for future meetings with Indians and the city was so named.
Following this brief history, we saw a video telling of the Mormon Battalion march to San Diego on the Pacific Ocean that left from this area in July 1846 completing the longest infantry march in U.S. history.
The tabernacle was a large log structure which was completed in less than 3 weeks by 200 men in December 1847. It was built to accommodate about 1,000 people and it was here that Brigham Young was sustained as the second President of the Mormon Church.
We walked around the Pottawattamie County Veterans Plaza located on Main Street just a block from our next destination of the “Squirrel Cage Jail” and museum.
The jail was built in 1885 and according to the designers the object of the invention was to produce a jail in which prisoners could be controlled in a maximum security setting with minimum jailer attention.
The jail consisted of three levels of cells with ten cells per level. Ideally each cell held two prisoners although at times as many as five were in a single cell. The cells were pie shaped with two metal bunks and a toilet area in the rear.
By using a large hand crank, the rotary drum was turned until the jailer had the cell he wanted in front of him. By using gates placed in front of the two cells on the other levels he did not which to access leaving the one cell open to remove or place prisoners.
There was one cell used for solitary confinement which was only 2 ft by 3 ft at the largest area. The jailer also had sleeping quarters located within the jail. This particular “Squirrel Cage Jail” was in use from 1885 until 1969.
Originally there were 18 Rotary Jails built in the late 1800s. Three are still standing today, this one in Council Bluffs, Iowa, one in Crawfordsville, Indiana and Gallatin, Missouri and all are currently museums. The others were dismantled in the late 1930s and early 1940s for the steel.
The final stop of the day was the General Dodge House built in 1869. It is a 14 room, 3 story brick Victorian home that sits high on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River Valley. The home has several “modern” conveniences quite unusual for the period such as closets in all bedrooms and gravity feed water supply for indoor bathrooms. The interior rooms house a majority of the original furnishings.
It was built by General Grenville M. Dodge who from 1870 to 1903 participated as a major developer and president of more than a dozen railroad companies in the south and west United States, Cuba, France, Mexico and served as a consultant for the Trans-Siberian Railroad.
He has been called “The greatest railroad builder of all time” because of his role as chief construction engineer of the Union Pacific Railroad and subsequent railroading career which spanned the globe totally more than 60,000 miles.
We have toured many historical and antebellum homes but this was a tour where the history of each room and its furnishings was given in detail by our guide. They give tours as you arrive so this makes each tour more personable.
We were on tour for over 2 hours to view this 10,000 sq. ft. home. I would highly recommend this attraction to anyone in the Council Bluffs area of Iowa.