On to Texarkana

TWELFTH IN A SERIES

The railroads changed things in this part of the state.

Along came the St. Louis Southwestern (the Cotton Belt); the Cairo & Fulton; the Mississippi, Ouachita & Red River and others. The railroads came in the late 1800s, and south Arkansas would never be the same.

“The Mississippi, Ouachita & Red River Railroad Co. was the first railroad to begin construction in Arkansas,” Van Zbinden writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Chartered in 1852 by John Dockery of Columbia County, the railroad began at Eunice in Chicot County in 1854. At the onset of the Civil War, the railroad was incomplete, extending about seven miles south and west from the Mississippi River. Completion of construction and actual operation of the railroad didn’t occur until well after the Civil War. The company never made a profit and was merged with the Little Rock, Pine Bluff & New Orleans Railroad in 1873.”

Dockery owned land at Lamartine in Columbia County. Dockery and others attending a railroad convention at Camden in December 1851 had determined that a south Arkansas railroad was necessary since parts of the Red River and Ouachita River weren’t navigable for much of the year.

“This fact, they felt, combined with a lack of internal improvements, prohibited southern Arkansas access to the Mississippi River, eastern markets and New Orleans,” Zbinden writes. “The new railroad was to begin at or near Gaines Landing in Chicot County and continue through or near Camden to Fulton in Hempstead County. From Fulton, the company was to build its railroad to a location on the border between Texas and Arkansas. The railroad was surveyed in 1853-54. Despite the difficulty of raising investment capital, the railroad hired renowned engineer Lloyd Tilghman as its chief engineer.”

Tilghman moved the railroad’s planned western terminus from Fulton to the vicinity of what’s now Garland on the Red River.

“This new path would take the railroad to Lamartine and down Beech Creek, crossing the Dorcheat Bayou half a mile north of the main road to Lewisville,” Zbinden writes. “Tilghman’s recommended route from Camden to the Red River is similar to the route later built by the St. Louis Southwestern Railway. Tilghman claimed that this new route would make the Red River a tributary of the railroad. He noted that the Red River above the Great Raft would always be ‘a barrier to the commerce of the vast regions above’ due to the ‘supineness and imbecility of our government.'”

A groundbreaking ceremony was held at Camden on July 6, 1854, but numerous lawsuits impeded process. Railroad supporters also had trouble raising funds. Dockery died in 1860, and the Civil War began the following year.

The railroad eventually was consolidated with the Little Rock, Pine Bluff & New Orleans in October 1873. The new company was named the Texas, Mississippi & Northwestern Railroad Corp., but the financial difficulties continued. Jay Gould later purchased the railroad and deeded it to the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad. The railroad was never completed farther west than Warren. It was operated for a number of years as the Warren subdivision of the Missouri Pacific Railroad.

The St. Louis Southwestern had more success. It began at Tyler, Texas, in 1875 and started construction in Arkansas six years later.

“When completed in 1883, the railroad ran diagonally across the state from Texarkana to St. Francis in Clay County,” Zbinden writes. “By 1930, the company operated 712 miles of track in Arkansas. The Cotton Belt, as it was better known, would reach its peak mileage in the state in the early 1930s. By the middle to late 1930s, the Great Depression and declining passenger revenue led the railroad to begin abandonment of many of its subsidiary companies and branch lines. Southern Pacific Railroad gained control of the Cotton Belt in 1932 in an effort to gain connections to eastern markets at St. Louis and Memphis.”

As part of the Southern Pacific Railroad, the Cotton Belt was merged with the Union Pacific Railroad in 1996.

Gould, who owned the Missouri Pacific and Texas & Pacific Railroads, considered the St. Louis Southwestern a competitive threat. He purchased the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern in 1881 and ended business agreements with the Tyler-based railroad. Construction through Arkansas by what would become the Cotton Belt moved forward in 1881-82.

“The complete railroad stretched from Bird’s Point in Missouri to Gatesville in Texas,” Zbinden writes. “It entered Arkansas at St. Francis and traveled through Piggott, Paragould, Jonesboro, Brinkley, Pine Bluff, Rison, Fordyce, Camden, Lewisville and Texarkana. This ambitious construction program proved to be too great a financial burden on the company, and the choice of narrow gauge limited how effectively the railroad could compete with the parallel St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern.

“The Cotton Belt was foreclosed and placed into receivership in January 1884. From this receivership emerged the St. Louis, Arkansas & Texas Railway. Samuel Fordyce was named president. Under Fordyce, the railroad was converted to standard gauge by Oct. 18, 1886, and began construction of branch lines to increase business. In Arkansas, this included the 430-mile Little Rock branch from Altheimer to what’s now North Little Rock and the Shreveport branch from Lewisville to Shreveport.”

Fordyce made a secret agreement with Gould in 1888 to operate the Cotton Belt in conjunction with the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern. Gould gradually gained full control of the St. Louis, Arkansas & Texas. It was reorganized on June 1, 1891, as the St. Louis Southwestern.

Another successful railroad was the Cairo & Fulton, which is now the Union Pacific line from Missouri through Little Rock to Texarkana.

“Over a period of more than 100 years, the Cairo & Fulton merged first into the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern, then into the Missouri Pacific and finally into today’s Union Pacific,” Michael Condren writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “As the first railroad to connect Arkansas to Missouri and the eastern United States, the Cairo & Fulton opened up the state for development.”

The first Baring Cross Bridge over the Arkansas River at Little Rock was completed in December 1873. The railroad reached Texarkana the following month.

“Today, as a northbound mainline from Texas, the original Cairo & Fulton line serves as the main artery for the Texas petrochemical industry,” Condren writes. “It also transports the products of Arkansas to the northeastern United States.”

A site for a town was established along the Arkansas-Texas border at the point where the Cairo & Fulton tracks met the Texas & Pacific tracks in December 1873.

“The first lot was sold to J.W. Davis and later became the site of the Hotel McCartney, across from Union Station in Texarkana,” writes Arkansas historian Nancy Hendricks. “Another sale of a town lot that day led to the opening of the town’s first business, a grocery and drugstore operated by George Clark. There’s evidence that the city’s name existed before the city. Some say that as early as 1860, it was used by the steamboat Texarkana, which traveled the Red River. Others say a supposedly medicinal drink called Texarkana Bitters was sold in 1869 by a man who ran a general store in Bossier Parish in Louisiana.

“The most popular version credits a railroad surveyor, Col. Gus Knobel, who was surveying the right of way from Little Rock to southwest Arkansas for a railroad in the late 1860s. When Knobel came to the state line between Arkansas and Texas, and believing he was also at or near the Louisiana border, he reportedly wrote TEX-ARK-ANA on a board and nailed it to a tree with the statement ‘this is the name of a town which is to be built here.'”

A group on the Texas side of the state line met in December 1873 to organize the city. A charter was granted in June 1874.

In 1880, 29 people met and petitioned to incorporate Texarkana, Ark.

“Public sentiment was divided as an opposing group gathered 15 names of citizens who opposed organizing a government on the Arkansas side,” Hendricks writes. “But Texarkana, Ark., was granted a charter on Aug. 10, 1880.”

The first mayor was H.W. Beidler. Telephone service arrived in 1883 in what was becoming a thriving railroad town. By the 1890 census, there were more people on the Arkansas side (3,528) than the Texas side (2,852). The Miller County Courthouse was built in 1893. It was demolished in 1939 so the current facility could be built.

“Texarkana’s post office stood on the Arkansas side until residents of the Texas side requested one of their own,” Hendricks writes. “A post office known as Texarkana, Texas, operated from 1886-92. After it closed, postmarks then read Texarkana, Ark. A compromise was reached with Texarkana, Arkansas-Texas, which prevailed until the adoption of Texarkana, U.S.A. Both cities grew throughout the 1890s, installing streetcar lines, gas works, an electric light plant, an ice factory and sewer lines, often in as cooperative a manner as possible considering that the municipalities were in separate states.”

Growth in the area was helped immensely by the creation of the Red River Army Depot and the Lone Star Ammunition Plant during World War II.

“Along with being an important junction of railroad lines, Texarkana built a strong economy based on timber and minerals, along with agricultural crops such as corn, cotton, pecans, rice and soybeans,” Hendricks writes. “By 1952, the population was 40,490, with the Arkansas side reporting almost 16,000. By 1960, the Arkansas side had reached almost 20,000, and the total population was just more than 50,000.”

The establishment of a federal prison at Texarkana spurred additional growth. Texarkana, Ark., grew from 21,459 residents in the 1980 census to 29,919 people in 2010. Miller County had 43,462 residents in the 2010 census.

“Interstate 30 was completed through the area in the 1960s, and it was a double-edged sword,” writes Beverly Rowe of Texarkana College. “It brought many new businesses because of increased traffic and more efficient transportation of products to market. On the other hand, it took business away from Texarkana’s downtown, causing merchants to create what in essence was a new town along the interstate corridor. Since 1968, downtown buildings in Texarkana have deteriorated and businesses have closed. Perhaps the most vibrant businesses are the jails, law offices and bail bondsmen’s shops.

“Smaller Miller County towns such as Doddridge, Fouke, Garland and Genoa have continued to shrink while Texarkana’s city limits are pushing out on all sides. … Interstate 30 negatively affected passenger railroad traffic. In past decades, as many as nine railway companies served the area, using Texarkana’s Union Depot as the main station. Today, freight trains provide most of the railway traffic.”

The good news is that there seems to be a renewed effort to revitalize downtown Texarkana.

The most prominent current development is the restoration of the Hotel Grim, which was built in 1925. The building contains 103,200 square feet. When it was built, the eight-story structure was the second tallest building in the area. The development will feature commercial space on the first floor and apartment units on the other floors.

Texarkana also has embarked on what’s known as the Courthouse Square Initiative, the goal of which is to make improvements around the federal courthouse downtown. Fennell Purifoy Architects have created renderings of an area that will feature additional green space and enhanced walkability. Texarkana business and civic leaders eventually want to make improvements all the way down State Line Avenue to Interstate 30.

Despite the pandemic and current economic recession, an announcement was made in May that the former Texarkana National Bank building on the corner of State Line Avenue and Broad Street will be renovated. The redevelopment effort is being spearheaded by Texarkana Renewal Properties, led by David Peavy. The building will be redeveloped into apartments and condominiums, as well as overnight and extended-stay units. There also will be space for retail establishments and offices.

According to a news release from the developer: “The railroads founded our cities, but the wealth came from the timber. Virgin forest and a railroad transportation system combined to create prosperity in Texarkana. As the pine trees stopped several miles west of Texarkana and the trees became shorter and twisted, Dallas and other cities welcomed the opportunity to buy lumber from Texarkana timber barons. The Buchanans, the Cabes, the Bottoms, the Foukes and bankers like W.R. Grim created wealth from three critical essentials — an abundance of trees, transportation through the railroads and the great need for lumber in growing areas to the west.

“That great wealth was stored in Texarkana banks, most notably State First National Bank in Arkansas and Texarkana National Bank in Texas, one directly across the street from the other. State First National Bank was located on the first block of Broad Street in Arkansas, and Texarkana National Bank on the first block of Broad in Texas. This was the beginning of the competition between these banks. State Bank built a massive five-story bank and office building in 1904. In 1914, Texarkana Bank built an eight-story building directly across the street. In 1925, Texarkana Bank added an addition that doubled its size. The banking lobby was so ornate it might have reminded you of a palace with marble, granite, beautiful columns and ornate plaster molding.

“Each building made improvements through the years. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the competition intensified. State Bank built a new bank building blocks away. Texarkana Bank modernized its building with a huge renovation. It installed a new facade on the exterior and added new interiors. Lay-in ceilings covered the ornate plaster work, carpet covered the 1914 tile and new sheetrock covered the early-century woodwork.”

Now, those original elements will again be featured.

The trip would not be complete without ending with dinner at Cattleman’s Steak House, which is on the Arkansas side of State Line Avenue. It was one of just three restaurants inducted earlier this year into the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame. It was founded by Roy Oliver more than half a century ago when State Line was still a two-lane road. In addition to the steaks, there’s seafood, quail, frog legs and other specialties that have had residents of Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma coming to the family-owned restaurant for decades.

As far as I know, it’s the only restaurant in Arkansas that has calf fries and turkey fries (if you don’t know what they are, you might want to ask before you order) on the menu. I usually get calf fries for an appetizer. For my main course, I order a chicken fried steak with one fried quail on the side.

We’ve done it. We’ve gone from Mississippi to Texas using only one highway, U.S. Highway 82.

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