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.