Home » Uncategorized » To engineer is human.

To engineer is human.

During the first Agincourt seminar, I introduced the community as having been founded circa 1853 (shortly after a treaty with the Sac & Fox people opened a large portion of northwestern Iowa to settlement) and incorporated as a municipality in 1857, to conveniently anticipate a purported 150th anniversary in the fall of 2007.

In 19th century America, however, any town-platting scheme without hope for rail connections to the rest of the World was doomed to failure. The history of westward migration and settlement is founded on real estate speculation: the get-rich-quick intention to acquire a section of cheap agricultural land, anticipating the imminent arrival of a railroad, which itself was yet a stock company whose route was highly speculative and fully capable of being lured in your direction with sufficient incentive (read “cash”). So whoever the as yet unnamed Founders of Agincourt may have been, it is clear that they either knew something and waited for the railroad’s arrival or that they actively incentivised it in their direction.

I had looked at 19th century rail maps of Iowa and the larger Midwest and announced (with little more than opinion) that the Chicago & Northwestern would have arrived at the southern edge of Agincourt’s townsite soon after incorporation. At which point Justin Nelsen raised a confident hand and told us all that “No, this is Milwaukee Road country.” Until that moment, I had no idea that Justin’s other passion was, in fact, railroading. Not the HO-gauge scale modelling sort, but real-time, full-scale trains of the classic era of steam traction, with all its attendant puffing, belching and wheezing. How could I have been so foolish to not know this (about the Milwaukee Road, not Justin’s interest in it)? Suddenly the trajectory of a large portion of community history had been set: a significant component of its infrastructure now had direction.

It’s good to know things and especially valuable to learn what you don’t know or what you thought you knew but were incorrect.

collard nevers

Justin’s knowledge and design ability provided the community with a passenger and baggage-handling facility at the south end of Broad Street, probably a replacement in masonry for an earlier wood station of the 19th century. His design (now, tragically lost) may even have been a third-generation facility. But we also knew that there would have to be a significant development along the railroad’s right-of-way devoted to heavy, clunky, noisy, stinky, volatile things like lumberyards and light industry, not to mention the potential for actual rail facilities, such as roundhouses, repair shops, etc.

With the exception of the early 20th century addition of an interurban line—using the CMStP&P right-of-way, and then diverting to its own station nearer downtown—much of that urban/industrial strip has yet to be considered, let alone designed.

Does anyone want to step up to the plate?

Incidentally, the image above is a photograph of the roundhouse at Nevers, France, taken by Hippolyte-Auguste Collard circa the early 1860s. Isn’t it amazing! Would that Agincourt warranted such a thing.


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