Early Railroads of Washington County, Arkansas

The subject of railroad communication early engaged the attention of the people of Washington County, and it was almost constantly agitated for more than a quarter of a century before any tangible result was secured. One of the first schemes was for the construction of a grand trans-continental line, on or near the thirty-fifth parallel. This engaged the attention of the whole country, and a survey of the land was made, but nothing resulted from it. Other schemes, however, were not wanting. Early in the fifties the Legislature of Missouri chartered a road to be built from St. Louis to Springfield, and work upon it was soon after begun. It was thought that by proper effort an extension into Northwestern Arkansas could be obtained, as witness the following order of the county court of Washington County, made in 1855: “In view of the growing population, and the great success of our agricultural and commercial interests, it becomes imperative on us to use every reasonable exertion for the purpose of securing for ourselves a cheaper and more speedy means of transportation. The State of Missouri, having by an extension of her credit, and her congressional donation of the public domain, put in operation the construction of a railroad to run from St. Louis to Springfield, putting it in our power, by proper exertion being used, to have like facilities, by a continuation of said road to this place, it is ordered by the court that the clerk of the county be, and hereby is, ordered and instructed to prepare two additional columns on the poll books of an election to be held in August next, for a representative to Congress. In these columns he shall place the words ‘For Railroad Tax’ and ‘Against Railroad Tax,’ and all persons voting are requested to record their votes in one or the other columns.” The result of the vote could not be ascertained, but it was doubtless in favor of the proposition. The road, however, with all the aid extended to it by the State of Missouri, had only reached Rolla when the war put an end to the work.

In 1868 two proposed railroads were presented for the consideration of the people of Northwestern Arkansas. One was for a railway to be built across the State from east to west, and a company known as the Pacific & Great Eastern Railway Company was organized, with James H. Van Hoose as president. No work was done beyond a partial survey of the line. During the same year an act was passed granting the usual State aid of $15,000 per mile, to the Northwestern Border Railroad Company, upon the completion of a road from Van Buren to the Missouri State line, by the way of Fayetteville and Bentonville. From this time forth numerous conventions were held, and many plans for the building of various proposed lines were presented, but the railroads were as far away as before. At last the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad Company decided to extend their line into Texas, by the way of Fort Smith. Two lines were surveyed, one to pass through Prairie Grove Valley, and the other by the way of Fayetteville. To secure its construction over the latter the business men of Fayetteville purchased the right of way from the Missouri State line to Fayetteville, at a cost of over $8,000, and also donated $2,500 for the building of a depot. The first train over this road reached the town on June 8, 1881, amidst great rejoicing. A celebration was held, and appropriate addresses delivered by Col. T. M. Gunter, E. C. Boudinot, John O’Day and others.

In 1884 the Pacific & Great Eastern Railway Company was revived, or rather a new company was formed with the same objects as the old company of that name. It was incorporated on October 23, 1884, with an authorized capital stock of $8,877,000, by the following citizens of Fayetteville: B. R. Davidson, J. W. Stirman, C. A. Mulholland, J. D. Van Winkle, Maurice Coffey, P. F. Davidson and J. H. Van Hoose. During 1885 eight miles of road were constructed from Fayetteville eastward, but no further work has been attempted. Regular trains are run, however, and negotiations are now pending for the further building of the road. Should the line be completed it will open up a fine mineral and timber region, hitherto undeveloped. The present officers of the company are B. R. Davidson, president; P. F. Davidson, secretary; H. H. Dorsey, treasurer, and George S. Albright, superintendent.

In 1886 H. F. McDanield, a tie contractor, surveyed a line of railroad from Fayetteville to St. Paul, in Madison, and procured the right of way. He then interested the St. Louis & San Francisco Company in the proposed new road, and they undertook its construction. It has been completed to St. Paul, with the intention of continuing it to Little Rock.

Back to: Washington County, Arkansas History

Source: History of Benton, Washington, Carroll, Madison, Crawford, Franklin, and Sebastian Counties, Arkansas. Chicago, IL, USA: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.


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