In our first two installments of our Historic Trains in Arkansas, A Series we explored the history of cabooses, looked at the changes in locomotives and learned about some exciting railcars. But scattered across Arkansas are over 40 train depots that are listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places making them an integral part of Arkansas’s rail history. That number doesn’t include the countless others that haven’t been nominated to or approved for the register so we would be remiss to overlook their importance.
While the rail industry was booming into the 1930s, 40s and even into the 50s the first significant decline was noticed in the 1960s. As the diesel engine replaced the steam engine some of the romance of the rails was lost. At the same time, the automobile industry was making leaps and bounds and by the end of the 1970s railroads had seen the last of their glory days. Sadly, as the rail industry changed, train depots fell into disrepair as they were slowly abandoned following the decline of rail travel in favor of faster and more reliable means. Fortunately, many communities have chosen to give their historical depots new life by opening them as museums, visitor centers and more. Even the ones that sit abandoned serve as a window to the past.
Each of the depots listed below offers one an interesting view into the history of the railroad system, not only in Arkansas but across North America. Please be sure also to check out part one and part two of our Historic Trains in Arkansas Series for more great rail history and to add to your bucket list of trains.
Bald Knob Depot and Arkansas Traveler Hobbies by Julie Kohl
Missouri Pacific Depot – Bald Knob
Bald Knob was formed when the Cairo and Fulton railroad was built through the area in the 1870s. The community was thriving at the turn of the century with nearly 50 trains passing through each day. At the same time, strawberry farmers discovered something magical in the soil, and Bald Knob became one of the top growers of strawberries in the nation. This was only propelled by the railroad which enabled the community to ship carloads of strawberries all over the world.
The MoPac depot was built around 1915 and was actually the second depot built in town and helped provide a sense of economic stability and the downtown area flourished. Locals enjoyed watching the steam locomotives as they lumbered through town. Sadly, rail travel was almost entirely replaced by automobiles by the 1940s.
Today the depot is home to Arkansas Traveler Hobbies which operates as a museum and hobby store. The depot was added to the NRHP in 1992.
Rock Island Depot – Carlisle
While passenger and freight depots were bringing prosperity to neighboring communities such as the 1870s, Carlisle didn’t see much prosperity until the early 1900s. In 1904, rice was beginning to be planted and finally became profitable in the 1920s which coincided with the building of the depot.
The Rock Island Railroad provided the only direct passenger and cargo service between Little Rock and Memphis, so the passenger depot in Carlisle encouraged thousands of immigrants to settle in Carlisle and surrounding communities.
The Tudor Revival style structure was added to the NRHP in 1990.
Jonesboro, Lake City & Eastern Railroad Depot – Manila
Built around 1910 the Manila depot remained in operation through the 1970s often seeing up to four passenger trains each day as well as freight trains.
A large lumber company in Blytheville built a narrow gauge line that allowed logs to be transported to the Manila stave mill and then reloaded onto the JLC&E to be transported to the Chicago Mill & Lumber Company in Blytheville.
Manila was a significant fish processor for nearby Big Lake. For some time, approximately 40 tons of fish, along with ducks and turtles were shipped from the Manila depot on a daily basis.
The Depot was added to the NRHP in 1997 and was restored by the estates of Eena Wilson Grieshammer and Roxie Wilson Cates. In 2001 the depot museum was established and expanded in 2014 to include a second building which became the Main Street Historical Museum. Both museums are open on Saturdays from noon to 2 p.m. or by appointment.
Brinkley Union Station Photo provided by G. Gerard.
Brinkley Union Station – Brinkley
Built in 1912, the Brinkley Union Station served as a joint station for all railroads that passed through Brinkley. Listed on the NHRP as Lick Skillet Railroad Work Station Historic District, passenger service continued along the line until 1967.
Union Pacific deeded the station to the city of Brinkley in 2001. A complete restoration project was completed in 2003 which also marked the opening of the Central Delta Depot Museum later that year.
The museum provides general history information relevant to the area. It also includes an early 1900s Midland-Missouri Pacific Depot from Monroe and a Southern Pacific Railroad caboose.
Ozark Depot courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism.
Missouri Pacific Depot – Ozark
The Ozark depot, built in 1910, is situated along the banks of the Arkansas River and served both freight and passengers.
The building is now home to the Ozark Area Depot Museum, which is operated by Main Street Ozark. The Lock and Dam and the Historic River Bridge are all in view of the depot. Visitors are encouraged to visit the museum and picnic on the lawn and explore the scenery. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday.
Memphis, Paris, and Gulf Depot – Mineral Springs
The Memphis, Paris and Gulf railroad was a 25-mile standard gauge track between Nashville and Ashdown, Arkansas. The line opened in 1907 right on the heels of a booming timber industry. The depot in Mineral Springs was constructed in 1908 and was the only depot ever built in the town. When the timber industry was diminishing in the 1920s, the depot was purchased by the Ideal Cement Company. It was used in conjunction with a quarry in the area. The depot was added to the NRHP in 1978 and is now home to the Mineral Springs Public Library.
McGehee Depot provided by G. Gerard.
Missouri Pacific Railroad Depot – McGehee
When the Missouri Pacific Railroad decided to build it’s railroad shops in McGehee, there came a major impact on the growth of the town. The town built up around the 1910 Mediterranean-style depot and the railroad was the largest local employer through the 1930s.
The depot sat empty for many years but is now the home of the WWII Japanese Internment Camp Museum.
Newport Station photo provided by G. Gerard.
Newport Station – Missouri Pacific Depot – Newport
Built in 1904 the depot served both passenger and freight traffic until April 30, 1971. The next day the track was taken over by Amtrak, and the Newport depot was added as a passenger stop in 1974. Amtrak continued to operate the depot until 1996. The station is now used for a variety of community activities.
Still MORE Trains!
As I began to dig into my research, I was shocked to realize how many train-related activities, restaurants, museums and more exist across the state of Arkansas. Here are a few more articles on OnlyinArk.com that explore Arkansas’s rail history. Enjoy!
St. Joe Train Depot
Hope Train Depot
Eureka Springs Train Travel
Orphan Train Riders of Arkansas
The Frisco Depot in Mammoth Spring
All Aboard! Train Experiences in Arkansas
Warren & Ouachita Depot
Count the Railcars – Railroads in Arkansas
Holiday Express Christmas Trains
The Old Frisco Station
A&M Railroad Excursion Train