In the 1860s, Iowa was caught up in railroad fever that overshadowed all other interests, even politics.
There were four east-west lines and one north-south road that had begun building in the mid-1850s: The Burlington and Missouri River at Burlington, the Mississippi and Missouri at Davenport, the Chicago, Iowa and Nebraska at Clinton, and the Dubuque and Pacific at Dubuque. Whereas, these east-west lines all had the Missouri River as their goal, the Keokuk, Fort Des Moines and Minnesota (later rechristened the Des Moines Valley in 1864) was building up the Des Moines River Valley from Keokuk.
The Civil War had halted all construction for four years, but with the war over, all the roads resumed building as rapidly as possible, the Des Moines Valley reaching Des Moines on August 29, 1866. Soon there was a desire to extend it on to Fort Dodge. This was welcome news to all the settlers along the Raccoon River valley. Railroad officials were proposing a route on the west side of the river unless Spring Valley Township voted a tax for that purpose. This was turned down in an election, but when Union Township, immediately to the north in Boone County, voted a 3 percent tax, that was sufficient incentive for the company to change the route to the east side.
Early pioneer Harvey Willis had bought land in the area in 1859. Willis did all that he could to help the new railroad and to bring the route across his land. He purchased a tract of timber south of Des Moines at a place called Summit, where he established two sawmills for cutting railroad cross-ties and fuel for the locomotives as construction proceeded northward toward his prospective town. The company officials had consented to start a town on the Willis land, and the town came to be named Perry in honor of Colonel Perry, one of the co-owners of the Des Moines Valley Railroad.
During the winter of 1868-69, when construction was well along, Harvey and his brother John platted the new town. The original plat contained about 220 acres, and agreed to give five acres to the railroad company for its station grounds. The train service began in Perry on July 4, 1869. Perry was connected to the railway by 1880, and the population had reached 800 people.
On a side note to this history, Fort Dodge was aggressively seeking a railroad connection to Des Moines and was also negotiating with the Des Moines Valley to construct a line in the valley of the Des Moines River. Had their bid been successful, Perry would have been missed entirely, and Perry would not have been… Perry.