Between 1874 and 1880, a narrow gauge railroad was completed from Des Moines through Ankeny to Ames. Passenger service was established in July 1880, with the fare from Ankeny to Des Moines at 33 cents. Riley Van Horn was the first station agent in Ankeny and received a monthly salary of $45.
In 1881, the town of Ankeny consisted of seven houses, a Methodist Church, a depot, a combination store and post office, livery stable, a blacksmith shop, rooming house, machine shop and a school. There was no delivery of mail in the area at this time, and newspapers arrived in town on the train every Friday.
Many of the farmers in this area raised cane sorghum for molasses, which was processed in a mill two miles southeast of Ankeny. Others raised hogs, the first of which were driven from Ankeny to market in Keokuk, a trip which required seven days.