Railroad Beginnings

Scranton owes its existence to the Cedar Rapids & Missouri River Railroad, which completed its line through Greene County in 1866. In January of 1867 the first regular train reached the site of the present town of Scranton. Scranton was platted during the summer of 1869 by the Blair Town Lot Company, who gave Scranton its name in honor of Joseph H. Scranton of Scranton, Pennsylvania, who supplied most of the iron rails in the construction of the railroad.

Scranton is probably best known for its historic water tower. The water tower, built in 1897, was the first steel elevated water tank built by Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel. The tower is still in service today and is the oldest working water tower in Iowa. Below are excerpts from the Scranton Journal, a local newspaper.

June 24, 1897: “…town water works system contracted with Jackson & Moss of Des Moines for a sum of $4,026.”

September 9, 1897: “Has any waterworks tower ever blown over in the state of Iowa? If so, when and where was it, and what were the conditions surrounding the downfall thereof… We believe the dangers of life and limb from the tower now being erected at this place is less than the steenth part of the atom. . . are loud in the predictions of dire calamities which are sure to follow the erection of the tower now in the area…If anyone knows of water works towers which have blown down in Iowa we hope they will let the JOURNAL know - - and if they are as a matter of fact a menace to human life, we will enlist in the warfare and show no quarter to the City fathers or anyone else until this tower is moved to a safer place.”

September 23, 1897: “The citizens who are opposed to the water works tower on the site selected near the town hall have subscribed the sum of $200 to be sued in defraying the expenses of moving the tower to another place… the Council telegraphed to Des Moines for one of the contractors to come to Scranton and furnish an estimate as to the cost of erecting the tower in another place. Mr. Moss, one of the contractors said it will cost about $1,125 to move it to City Park; about $800 to erect it on a site west of the creamery; and about $560 to place it on lots south of Carson and Gibson’s livery stable…the council will meet tomorrow evening for the purpose of forming a proposition which will be made to the citizens…”

Later: “The council at its meeting this (Friday) evening submitted the following proposition to the citizens: If they raise $385 in cash, and purchase and donate the land to the town and secure the consent of all property owners adjoining, the Council will cause the tower to be erected on the J.J. Black lots south of Carson and Gibson’s livery barn. The citizens will not accept the proposition, the tower will be erected on the site selected by the unanimous consent of the entire Council, and the world will continue to move.”

The Day They Burned the Scranton Water Tower

One of the most unusual circumstances in Scranton’s history occurred in February, 1907, when the water tower caught on fire!

Here is an account of the incident as reported in the Centennial edition of the Jefferson Bee & Herald…

In February 1907 Town of Scranton was without water for several days because of frozen water in the mains and situation was serious.

A solution seemed to build a fire under the tank and melt water until the fire got out of control and flamed around the water tower. Three men climbed to the top with buckets to throw water down toward the fire, but could not because of the extreme subzero weather.

They fell into the ice in the water tower and were too weak to help themselves with the ropes which were extended to them. It was then that Howard Butler of Scranton, then 21 years old, lowered the men to the ground and became the hero not only of Scranton and Greene County, but to the State of Iowa.