Update On Effort To Preserve Former Rock Island Depot At Perry

The former Rock Island depot in Perry, Arkansas on August 8, 2017.

Earlier this year a deadline was set by the Little Rock & Western Railway for preservationists to move the former Rock Island passenger station at Perry, Arkansas by the end of 2017 or it would be torn down.The property it sits on is today headquarters for the shortline railroad, which operates a 79 mile stretch of former Rock Island trackage west of Little Rock. With the year coming to a close, I checked back this week with those involved and while nothing is happening just yet, the situation sounds promising. We should know something definite soon.

As I wrote in September, the dilapidated century-old structure is no longer of use to the railroad and company officials want it gone. They are willing to donate the building, but the cost of moving it would have to be covered by someone else. The railroad has been giving a coalition of preservationists and historians time to consider their options. Behind the depot is a locomotive servicing shed built in the 1980s, while the office building for the Little Rock & Western is across the tracks. The shortline was created in 1980 after the Rock Island was shut down.

Buford Suffridge with the Perry County Historical and Genealogical Society told me there has been strong interest in preserving the depot and that several people have stepped forward offering to make donations for the project. He says its members voted a few month ago to allocate up to $3,500 to cover the cost of moving it. If it’s not moved far, that should be enough based on estimates he’s heard.

The key question has been where to move the depot. The statewide nonprofit Preserve Arkansas, whose mission is to help communities save and rehabilitate such structures, has been consulting with Suffridge. Executive Director Rachel Patton would like to nominate the Perry depot to the National Register of Historic Places. For it to be eligible, she says it would need to retain its original character and remain along railroad tracks.

Patton and Suffridge say an ideal spot is on the opposite side of the tracks, about a half-block down at the corner of Arkansas highways 9 and 10. That is still property owned by the Little Rock & Western, but the empty lot is only used for parking company trucks. Moving the depot there would get it out of the way of the direct operations of the railroad, as managers have said they want more space for equipment around the locomotive servicing shed.

The preservationists are asking if the company would be willing to donate that piece of land, and the request seems to be getting serious consideration. Little Rock & Western General Manager Ryan Richardson says he has forwarded the request to the corporate parent company of the railroad, the Genesee & Wyoming, which operates 120 shortline railroads around the world. A key concern, he told me, is making sure the railroad would still have an adequate right-of-way for its tracks if the depot were moved to that corner.

Consideration by the corporation’s real estate people was delayed by Hurricane Irma damaging its offices in Jacksonville, Florida in September, so more time beyond the original deadline is being granted. Richardson hopes to know something in the coming weeks. He also reiterated to me that the railroad just wants the depot out of the way soon because it’s of no use to them.

If the request for the land is granted, Bufford said he expects the depot can be moved that short distance for about $2,500. He says he has also spoken with people interested in helping with the renovation. In particular, one local business leader has offered to help repair the roof. If the depot gets listed on the National Register of Historic Places, that would open up more possibilities for money that could go toward a renovation. The goal is for the depot to eventually become a museum that tells the story of Perry County. In August the railroad allowed me inside the depot to take photos, which you can see and read more about the preservation effort on this page. As someone who loves Arkansas railroad history, especially given how much of the Rock Island has been lost, I’m hopeful this project will come to fruition.

Effort To Save Former Rock Island Depot In Perry, Arkansas From Demolition

The former Rock Island depot at Perry, which still features many remnants of its earlier days.

Unless it can be moved by the end of the year, the century-old Rock Island depot at Perry, Arkansas will be torn down. The shortline Little Rock and Western Railway, which nows owns the property, wants to get rid of the dilapidated structure, but is working with local preservationists who are looking at whether it would be possible to move the depot so that it can be preserved. I’ve talked with those on all sides of this and recently was allowed inside the building to take photos. READ MORE.

Discussing the Rock Island Railroad on AETN’s Barnes and…

I was able to talk about my book Rock Island Railroad in Arkansas on the program Barnes and… on the Arkansas Educational Television network, which is the local PBS outlet. The program, which was aired July 17, 2017 at 6:30 p.m., also features many of the photographs included in the book. You can find a list of upcoming public events and a link to buy the book here.

The Latest On My Book: Rock Island Railroad In Arkansas

The cover of my book for Arcadia Publishing, released on April 3, 2017.

I’ve got several new events coming up related to my book Rock Island Railroad in Arkansas. First, I’ll have a book signing at Barnes & Noble, 4000 McCain Blvd in North Little Rock on Saturday, June 17 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Then on Wednesday, August 2, I’ll be hosting a lecture about the history of the Rock Island as part of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies’ Legacies  & Lunch program at 12 p.m. in the Darragh Center at the Central Arkansas Library System’s Main Library, 100 Rock Street in Little Rock. That will be followed by a book signing.

I’m excited to announce that I’ve recorded an interview for a half-hour episode of Barnes and… with Steve Barnes which will air on the Arkansas Educational Television Network on July 17 at 6:30 p.m. It will feature many of the historic photographs included in the book.

I’m nearing the debut of my first episode in a podcast series I’ve been producing, which will probably run about 15 episodes and feature segments from about two dozen interviews I’ve recorded over the years with former employees of the Rock Island and others with a connection to the railroad. Look for that by the first week in July.

One final note, I only recently bought a copy of my own book through iBooks on my iPad and was impressed at the quality of the photos. You can double click an image and then zoom deep inside the historical photos. The book is available for sale at most major bookstores in central Arkansas, as well as online retailers like Amazon, but if you’d like to get it for a digital device, I was very pleased with the quality. To learn more about my book, find a link to watch a previous lecture I gave at the Clinton School of Public Service and more, click here.

Release of Rock Island Railroad In Arkansas

The cover of my new book for Arcadia Publishing, which was released on April 3. You can click on the cover to order a copy of the book.

A huge project which has dominated much of my free time over the last two years has been preparing a new book for Arcadia Publishing called Rock Island Railroad in Arkansas, which is part of its Images of Rail series. The book is a collection of mostly vintage photographs of the railroad taken around the state and was officially released on April 3. It’s available at major bookstores in Arkansas, or can be ordered online. I’m excited that my first lecture on the subject was Tuesday, April 4, at the Clinton School of Public Service, which is housed in the 118-year-old building that for much of its existence was the Little Rock passenger station for the Rock Island. Click here to find a link to watch a video of my presentation, learn more about the book, where to purchase it, or find when and where I’ll be taking part in future lectures or book signings.

I’ve been researching the Rock Island off and on for 29 years, recording interviews with former employees, visiting locations in the state that were once used by the railroad, and most recently, got access to the files of former Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton who was in his first term in office when the Rock Island was shut down in 1980. I plan to get many of those documents posted in the coming year to offer a different perspective on what a crisis this was for the state. About 700 people worked for the railroad in Arkansas at the time, and there were then efforts to try and get a new railroad to buy the former trackage, much of which ended up being removed.

But in the short term, my next project concerning the railroad is producing a podcast series using audio of interviews I’ve recorded with more than 20 people over the years, most former employees, to give a firsthand account of life working for the Rock Island and the impact its shutdown had on the state. Look for the first episode in the coming weeks. I expect I’ll probably produce about 10 to 15 episodes in the coming months.