Monday, November 15, 2010

Setting the Tracks Straight: III

At last, the most glorious of Searcy's depots!

The Rock Island railroad originated in a town of the same name in northern Illinois. I believe the part that came through Searcy was a spur that terminated right at the edge of downtown. The depot was right across the street from Spring Park, a destination for many travelers to Searcy in its pioneer days.

The Rock Island depot was notable because it was brick and expensive. No one was really sure why the railroad built such an extravagant building in Searcy, because the town wasn't exactly a major destination for the railroad, even with the sulphur spring. But build it they did.

I love to imagine the geography and feel of the town when all three of these railroads were operating in its borders. Imagine hearing those steam locomotive whistles every few hours? And being able to hop on a wooden M&NA car and taking a scenic trip up to Pangburn or Letona? Assuming it came in on time.

The Rock Island depot was turned into a car dealership for a while in the 1960s, but sometime in that period it was demolished. Here is the same location now from the above picture:

The brick building on the left is a law firm, but if you study the historic photograph, you can see that it was once a ticket office.

By far the most ironic thing to me about these buildings is how Searcy struggled to get the railroads to notice it while other towns nearby like Kensett, Judsonia and Beebe reveled in the major arteries passing right through them. But now nobody goes to Kensett, Judsonia or Beebe, and they still have those rails.



Setting the Tracks Straight: II

Continuing in the discussion of Searcy's depots. I don't know which of the other two came first, but I can definitely tell you which one was demolished first. The Missouri & North Arkansas line, which I've also discussed several times before, was a north-south line from Eureka Springs to Helena. It was plagued by a cluster of developmental problems, and ceased operations through Searcy in the mid 1940s.

The quaint little wooden depot was characteristic of the M&NA. Few of them still remain. The picture was probably taken around 1905 or so - take a look at the horses and folks. A passenger car very much like the one picture is on display in Bald Knob. Almost no evidence of this part of Searcy remains to this day.

But, if you walk down Mulberry Street, the little spur road off of Beebe-Capps and Main, you might notice some rails poking through the asphalt. This is the old M&NA roadbed. A few other bits of evidence still stand nearby, like loading docks on sheds and the ruins of an old motel.

I'm not terribly certain, but I have a hunch that the old Kelso Feed Store stood in the same place the M&NA depot was. It was demolished about a month ago after a long period of neglect and abandonment.


Setting the Tracks Straight: I

I keep coming back to the Searcy depot.

My problem was, I didn't realize it should have been depots, the plural. In the late 19th century, Searcy was bypassed by the major railroad (the Cairo & Fulton, at the time). Town leaders struggled to get the live-giving metal rails to pass through this town, and they finally did - but Searcy was still a bit off the beaten track. So at various times, Searcy had three unique railroads, each with their own station, passing through.

1. The Doniphan, Kensett & Searcy Railroad

This was the first railroad to make it through the town, and it was an extremely short line. "Doniphan" doesn't even really exist anymore as a town, being mostly just a location between Searcy and Kensett. In its early days, the DK&S was a wooden tram line between Kensett and Searcy.

Oh, and no locomotives traveled it. Instead, passengers rode on a flat cart pulled by mules. Yep.

Here's that depot:

The DK&S went through multiple owners and identities, finally being absorbed by the supermassive Union Pacific Railroad. Ironically, though it was the smallest railroad in town, it's the only one with any tracks left. The tracks leading down Park Avenue past the Cloverdale area is the original roadbed leading from Kensett.

In fact, it's probably because Upac owns the building that it still stands today:

The wooden surface sticking out on the left is the freight loading dock. It would seem that the DK&S building was once about twice as long, judging by the older picture, but it was never the town's most glamorous station. This area was once the town's booming industrial area, home to strawberry packing and a prosperous shoe factory.

Two more to come!


Monday, November 8, 2010

Pioneer Village II: Garner Depot

Going on with the Pioneer Village. This is my favorite piece in their collection, and anyone who reads this blog can probably see why.

This beautiful depot once stood in the desolate town of Garner, which lies a few miles south of Searcy. It's an odd duck, because none of the depots that once stood in the villages bordering Searcy (Kensett, Judsonia, Higginson) still stand. But it's probably because of its unusual history that we still have it.

The Missouri-Pacific Railroad ceased passenger railroad activity from Garner in 1939, moving it instead to neighboring McRae. To avoid confusion, the railroad ordered that the depot be moved from the railroad. These days, it probably would have been demolished instantly, but back then the people of Garner had other ideas.

It was moved across the street (pausing in the middle of the highway overnight), then converted into a residence. Years later, a family from McRae acquired it and moved it onto their property, where they operated an antique shop out of it.

Eventually, those owners passed away and the next of kin offered the building to the White County Historical Society. They packed it up and moved it to Searcy, where it remains to this day.

The 1888 building shows the sort of character that public transit buildings had in those days, and gives us a rare glimpse of what small-town depots were like.


Pioneer Village I: Pangburn drunk tank

The Pioneer Village is a hidden hamlet nestled in the middle of Searcy's industrial area. The White County Historical Society started putting it together in the late 1960s and now they have a bunch of old, quirky buildings collected from around the county, as well as a lot of historic trinkets and artifacts.

Here's one of them:

Up until around 1960, this was the Pangburn jail. It's not much more than a tin-and-wood shack, with one room and a few tiny windows. There's a hatch on the gable for who-knows-what, but the guide suggested it might have been to help cool the building in hot summers.

But she did note that the building was an oven in the summer and a freezer in the winter. It was also reserved almost entirely for drunks. So don't get drunk in Pangburn, folks, or you'll end up in this thing, like my beautiful wife Jenna (pictured) did. Shame, Jenna, shame!

Also, hanging in the building are a pair of chaps said to have belonged to Jesse James at one point. Take with a grain of salt.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

New look, slightly different taste

So I was looking over Time Fishing and I realized I hadn't changed the layout since I started in March 2009. So here, have a new layout! If you're reading this on Facebook, click here to take a look.

With the new look comes a bit of a new approach. Writing for the Citizen, I publish history-related articles every week. Since a good chunk of this town gets to read those articles, it becomes a bit more difficult to post here, where my readership is unarguably smaller (and that's okay).

But instead of posting FEWER items, I'm actually planning on posting MORE. However, I'm going to focus on shorter entries maybe showcasing one picture, a bit like the blog of my friend Barbara Duncan. Also, I'm going to prepare my entries ahead of time (like I started doing with my new Posterous), that way I should be able to consistently get a couple of articles out each week.

I have a bad habit of flaking out on personal projects after performing them for a while. I've never been able to keep up an exercise routine, for example.

I don't want that to happen to Time Fishing. So, in conclusion, here is a picture of the Frank Myers dinosaur, a friend of mine that I blogged about almost two years ago. He's green now, and the car dealer there changed his slogan to "Frank Myers: The T-Rex of Used Car Sales."