Chariton is situated on the divide between the watersheds for the Mississippi River to the east and the Missouri River to the west. The town was platted in 1849 as the location for the Lucas County Courthouse. The only interruptions to the grid were the block set aside for the courthouse and the site for the public school three blocks away. By the late 1860s the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad had traversed the county, and a spur line had been built extending south from Chariton. The railroad's construction of a large two-story (somewhat Italianate) brick building combining a depot, eatery, and hotel was unusual for Iowa at that time.
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