The Des Moines Valley Railroad completed building into Des Moines on Aug. 29, 1866. The railroad started from Keokuk in 1856 but because of the Civil War, progress was slowed. Headquarters were in Keokuk with D.W. Kilbourne serving as president, and General Reid and Colonel Leighton listed as lessees.
These men visited Des Moines often to take care of the railroads interests. On April 13, 1869 a proposed route was announced in the Iowa Daily State Register. Leaving Des Moines, it was to enter Dallas County section 12, 78, 26 through section 2 and 3 of that township and enter Walnut township, section 34 and on into Green County. New towns would be laid out.
On April 30, Grant, Ragan and Co. bought the land around the railroad bed in Walnut Township, section 33, from Cyrus W. Fisher, the land on which the town of Waukee was built. At the rate of “one mile a day,” the people of this abundant land would soon be able to ship their farm products by rail to Des Moines and eastward.
In May 1869, the roadbed was laid and the men working for Des Moines Valley Railroad were laying the rails. A coach car housed these men and moved up the track with them. As they moved into Dallas County, Waukee was just a dream in the heart of General L. A. Grant. He and Major W.M. Ragan had gone into the speculative real estate business only a month earlier in Des Moines.
By June 2 it was reported that all the stations from Des Moines to the Northwestern Railroad line had been fixed and christened. First was Valley Junction, the second was Shirley, nine miles from the Junction. The others in order are Dallas Center, Pierce’s Point, Perry, Rippe and Grand Junction at the Northwestern Road. Depots were to be erected as soon as a carpenter corps could do the work.
Twenty-five miles of track had been laid by June 13and the first regular train went out on the tracks June 15. Shirley had been laid off in lots, one house already erected with more to go up soon. General Grant and Major Ragan had named our fair town Shirley but it didn’t keep that name very long. When General Reid of the Des Moines Valley Road heard about it he said it should be changed. As reported in the Daily Register: “The proprietors named it Shirley in the first place, but the “powers that be” in the railroad office down in Keokuk insisted that it should have an Indian appellation, and hence Waukee it had to be. What Waukee means, we don’t know. For that, you must ask Gen. Reid.”
Progress of Waukee was moving quickly, for a month later finds the depot built, and 320 acres laid off in lots and outlots with eight or 10 residences already built. General Grant did not live here, but he and Major Ragan had some houses built for speculation to promote sales in the town. General Grant and Major Ragan had great faith that Waukee would become a big town.