The Humeston and Shenandoah Railroad was organized in Iowa on February 12, 1881. Of interest, the eastern terminus of the railroad was not Humeston, Iowa (Decatur County); rather the eastern terminus was at Van Wert, Iowa (Decatur County). At organization, the railroad consisted of 112 miles of track with 18 locomotives. The railroad was part of a series of rail lines built as a westward extension of the Missouri, Iowa, and Nebraska Railway (later the Keokuk and Western Railroad) across southern Iowa during the latter half of the 1800s. Railroad mogul Jay Gould envisioned the Humeston and Shenandoah Railroad as a way to allow his Wabash Railroad to extend to Omaha, Nebraska. However, the Burlington Route contested the construction of the new railroad and Gould eventually agreed for the Humeston and Shenandoah Railroad to be built as a joint venture with the Burlington. When completed on April 1, 1881, the Humeston and Shenandoah was leased for operation to a company that was owned jointly by the Wabash and the Burlington and operated from their joint accounts. This business arrangement continued until the Wabash bankruptcy of 1899, when the Burlington Route operated the line under lease. In 1901, the Burlington Route acquired the line outright and combined it with the Keokuk and Western Railroad to form a railroad reaching from Shenandoah, Iowa in the west to Keokuk, Iowa in the east.
Towns along the line included (from west to east):
- Shenandoah, Page County
- Norwich, Page County (near Ghost Town)
- Yorktown, Page County (near Ghost Town)
- Clarinda, Page County
- New Market, Taylor County
- Ladoga, Taylor County (Ghost Town)
- Gravity, Taylor County
- Sharpsburg, Taylor County (near Ghost Town)
- Merle Junction (Merle, Conway Station, Conway Crossing), Taylor County (crossing with the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad; abandoned)
- Clearfield, Taylor County
- Diagonal, Ringgold County
- Knowlton (possible listed as Kew), Ringgold County (Ghost Town)
- Tingley, Ringgold County
- Ellston, Ringgold County (near Ghost Town)
- Beaconsfield. Ringgold County (Ghost Town)
- Grand River, Decatur County
- DeKalb, Decatur County (Ghost Town)
- Delray, Decatur County (Ghost Town)
- Van Wert, Decatur County (eastern terminus at junction with the Keokuk and Western)
In 1896, the name of the railroad wash changed to the Humeston and Shenandoah Railway. By 1898, the line owned 14 locomotives with most being 4-4-0s built by the Pittsburgh Locomotive Co. Business was brisk and encouraged the outright acquisition of the Humeston and Shenandoah Railway by the Burlington Route in 1901. During the early 1900s primary traffic on the line consisted of bituminous coal mined in southern Iowa, grains, cattle and livestock, less-than-carload merchandise, and timber products. In addition, there was significant passenger business until about 1920.
Decline began in the 1920s, but antecedents of eventual decline dated back to the initial construction of the railroad. As the Humeston and Shenandoah Railroad was constructed across the generally hilly topography of southern Iowa, the line had operational problems that included steep ruling grades, plentiful curves, and many of the trestles had to be built and require a great deal of maintenance. Effects of the rise in automobile ownership, improved roads, public subsidies for roads, and trucks led to decline. However, it was the Great Depression and loss of timber trestles due to fires that led to a more rapid decline and section abandonment. As southern Iowa's economy struggled and lagged behind that of much of the rest of the state and the Midwest, there was a lack of industrial development along the railroads course. By the 1930s, much of the revenue for the line relied on coal, agricultural products, and passenger service; this combination proved fatal as the line was no longer considered profitable.
The first segment abandoned, Norwich to Clarinda, was during the height of the great depression, December of 1935. April 1938 saw the abandonment of the section from Shenandoah to Norwich. In December of 1945, two segments were abandoned, Clarinda to Merle Jct. and Cleafield to Humeston. The final segment of the railroad, between Merle Jct. and Clearfield, struggled on until abandonment in 1983, bringing an end to the history of the Humeston and Shenandoah Railroad.
A rough timeline of this route:
Shenandoah Norwich Clarinda Merle Jct. Clearfield Humeston
1881 |------------ Built: Humeston & Shenandoah Railroad --------------|
1901 |------ Purchased by Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad -------|
1938 |............| |----------------------------------------|
1970 |--- BN RR ---|
|......| = abandonment