The Pottawattamie County town of Crescent got its name because of the shape of the bluffs near the town site. First settled by Mormons in 1856, a prosperous future was anticipated due to its proximity to the Missouri River. The WPA Guide to Iowa, written in 1938, suggested the “town had ceased to grow” as businessmen decided to build in Council Bluffs instead of Crescent. While Crescent remains a small community in comparison to the county seat of Council Bluffs, it’s population (537) has more than doubled since the book was written.
The Council Bluffs Public Library operated in this Carnegie-funded building from 1905 to 1998, when operations moved to a modern 65,000-square-foot library building. Constructed at a cost of $70,000, the Council Bluffs building is the largest of the 17 Iowa Carnegie libraries designed by architects Patton and Miller. When the historic facility left empty, the Friends of the Union Pacific Railroad Museum group raised $3.5 million to renovate and repurpose the building for use as the Union Pacific Railroad Museum.
The Union Pacific Railroad Museum features a mix of artifacts dating to the mid-1800s along with interactive exhibits which highlight Union Pacific’s role in the railroad industry and growth of America’s economy. Open Tuesdays through Saturdays year round, a unique public-private arrangement allows the Friends organization to manage museum volunteers, the City of Council Bluffs to lease the building to Union Pacific, and Union Pacific to pay for the museum’s operating expenses.