Saturday, December 10, 2011

Lost Empire: Rock Island Railroad

In the glory days of railroading, multiple passenger lines crisscrossed through cities. The Rock Island Railroad wound its way from Rock Island, Illinois, down south through Arkansas. Here in Little Rock, Rock Island built a huge span over the Arkansas River.

Google Map

But in time all empires must crumble.

Rock Island became financially encumbered throughout the middle of the 20th century. It declared bankruptcy three times, each time floating to the surface through bailouts or changes in management.

Finally, in 1980, Rock Island collapsed under its own weight. Hundreds of miles of railroads through the south and midwest were either scrapped or left to rust.

In Little Rock, the huge bridge found itself orphaned of tracks and meaning - just a collection of steel crossbeams and mothballed machinery.

At least, until 2011.


The city spent millions of dollars this year to renovate the old bridge into a pedestrian walkway, linking it to Little Rock's River Trail and joining its brother downriver, the Junction Bridge.

But that's not all!

When the Rock Island crumbled, it left behind its historic depot, Choctaw Station, near the railroad bridge.


I understand the majestic building once house an Italian restaurant, and probably sheltered its share of hobos through the 1970s and 1970s. But in the early 2000s, Little Rock swept in and renovated the entire area, building the glass shoebox known as the Clinton Library and landscaping a huge park for parks and trails. Thankfully, they spared Choctaw Station, founding the Clinton School of Public Service and employing the building as its campus.

Here are some more shots of the station.

Original loading dock side. Note River Rail streetcar in the background
Waiting area, with Clinton Library on the right
"The Choctaw Route" stretched from Little Rock to Memphis to New Mexico


Debbie Wantulok said...

Hey...stopped by the blog after your post on Barbara's...we used to drive down by the bridge to get to where my dad worked at one point. I always enjoyed looking for a train. There are some really pretty buildings in downtown Little Rock. I lived west of the city...out past Joe T Schools..beautiful country out that grands lived up 300 toward's pretty have a nice blog...we will have to visit more often...

Jonesy said...

Thanks, Debbie! I like downtown Little Rock quite a bit, so expect to see lots more pictures on that subject here.

The city has sprawled pretty far west, so some of that country you spoke of might be neighborhoods and developments by now. Still, lots of gorgeous countryside out there.