Creston was originally settled in 1868 as a survey camp for the workers with the Burlington and Missouri Railroad. The campsite was on the crest on the railroad line between the Missouri and Mississippi, hence the name "Creston."
Creston was chosen as the division point for the railroad (now the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe, which built machine shops, roundhouse and a construction camp to the new town. The town was incorporated in 1871.
A new railroad station was constructed in 1899 and the three-story structure served passengers for 69 years. The depot was renovated in 1978 to serve as a City Municipal Building. The old machine shop building was destroyed by a tornado in 1946. The remainder of the roundhouse burned down in 1981.
Creston has a long railroad history. Today, Amtrak, the national passenger rail system, provides service to Creston, operating its California Zephyr daily in both directions between Chicago, Illinois, and Emeryville, California, across the bay from San Francisco. Creston is also a stop on the BNSF Railway. Creston’s rail crews work east from Creston to Galesburg, Illinois and west to Lincoln, Nebraska. The former Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad depot, a two-story, yellow-brick, red tile-roofed French Provincial structure, now serves as Creston's City Hall.
Creston is located on U.S. Route 34 in southern Iowa, about 80 miles (130 km) east of Omaha, Nebraska. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 5.25 square miles (13.60 km2), of which, 5.19 square miles (13.44 km2) is land and 0.06 square miles (0.16 km2) is water.
McKinley Lake lies within a large, multi-purpose municipal park within the city limits, and three additional recreational lakes are located within seven miles of Creston: Green Valley State Park, Summit Lake, Twelve Mile Lake and Three Mile Recreation Area.