On August 15, 1870, the first permanent railroad link across the United States from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast was completed when the final spike was driven in the Kansas Pacific Railway at Comanche Crossing in northeast Colorado. The exact spot is just east of Strasburg, near railroad mile marker 602, and the event is commemorated with a monument in Strasburg’s Lyons Park. In 1970 the site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places to honor the centennial of the railroad’s completion.
Coast-to-Coast Rail Service
Most people think that the first transcontinental railroad in the United States was completed on May 10, 1869, when the Union Pacific Railroad joined the Central Pacific Railroad in a famous celebration at Promontory, Utah. This is true, to a point. That railroad connected Omaha, Nebraska, to Sacramento, California, but there was not yet a permanent, continuous rail line from an Atlantic Coast port to a Pacific Coast port. Even after the Central Pacific extended its line to San Francisco Bay later that year, one major gap still existed between Omaha, Nebraska, and Council Bluffs, Iowa, where cargo had to be ferried across the Missouri River because there was no permanent railroad bridge. Ice bridges could be constructed across the river in the winter—as one was in early 1870, providing a temporary connection from coast to coast—but those lasted only a few months before the ice started to break up.
Meanwhile, new railroad and bridge connections south of the main Union Pacific–Central Pacific line forged the first permanent rail link from coast to coast. On June 30, 1869, the first railroad bridge across the Missouri River opened in Kansas City. By that time the Kansas Pacific Railway was building west toward Denver, and the Denver Pacific Railroad was working to connect Denver to the main Union Pacific line in Cheyenne. In June 1870, the Denver Pacific completed its work. Crews started building east from Denver to meet the Kansas Pacific, which had already reached eastern Colorado. On August 14, the westbound crew reached Bennett and the eastbound crew reached Byers, leaving just over ten miles between them. The race to finish started at 5 am on August 15, and at 2:53 pm the two sides joined at a site 928 feet east of mile marker 602, near the crossing of Comanche Creek.
By linking the east side of the Missouri River at Kansas City to the Union Pacific–Central Pacific line that reached the West Coast, the joining of the rails at Comanche Crossing completed the first permanent, unbroken stretch of rail across the continent. This route remained the only all-rail route from coast to coast until March 22, 1872, when the Union Pacific completed a permanent railroad bridge across the Missouri River at Omaha.
Monument to Comanche Crossing
In the early twentieth century, the town of Strasburg took shape less than a mile west of Comanche Crossing. In 1969 residents formed the Comanche Crossing Historical Society to promote local history, and in 1970 the community held a centennial celebration of the completion of the first coast-to-coast rail line. At that time the site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The original rails have been replaced and there is no marker at the exact spot where the rails were joined, but the historical society has placed a monument in Strasburg’s Lyons Park and operates a small museum nearby that is open during the summer.