Siloam Springs and the Railroad

At the founding of Siloam Springs in 1881, many of the town’s business owners began their trades in hopes that the railroad would soon arrive in the fledgling town. A railroad through the town would bring easier access to supplies and easier distribution of goods made in Siloam. These business owners were disappointed, however, as an entire decade went by without the promised arrival of the railroad. Around this time, the population of Siloam Springs began to fall. In 1881, the town enjoyed a healthy population of around 2,000 people. By the 1890 census, the population was down to only 821. It is speculated that this population slump is due to the railroad’s delayed arrival. Finally, in December of 1893, the Kansas City Pittsburgh & Gulf railroad (which became Kansas City Southern soon after) finally arrived, bringing with it easier trade with all parts of the country.

 The railroad arrived in Siloam Springs in December, 1893. This picture was likely taken at the location on East Main which later became Allen Canning. The power lines in this photo tell us this photo was not taken in 1893 when the railroad first arrived.

The railroad arrived in Siloam Springs in December, 1893. This picture was likely taken at the location on East Main which later became Allen Canning. The power lines in this photo tell us this photo was not taken in 1893 when the railroad first arrived.

Thanks to this development, the economy of Siloam Springs would continue to grow until the Great Depression decades later. To accommodate the railroad, Siloam Springs built a depot just south of Jefferson Street. Originally, it served as both a passenger and freight depot. In 1915, this depot was moved farther south and converted into a freight only depot, while a new passenger depot was built in its old spot.

 This was the first depot built in Siloam Springs to accommodate the railroad. Photo from  Images of America: Siloam Springs  by Don Warden, used with permission.

This was the first depot built in Siloam Springs to accommodate the railroad. Photo from Images of America: Siloam Springs by Don Warden, used with permission.

 Siloam's second passenger depot was built in 1915 on the location of its first depot. The first depot was moved to another location and used for freight only. Photo from  Images of America: Siloam Springs  by Don Warden, used with permission.

Siloam's second passenger depot was built in 1915 on the location of its first depot. The first depot was moved to another location and used for freight only. Photo from Images of America: Siloam Springs by Don Warden, used with permission.

As the Siloam Springs economy continued to grow, it continued to be a regular stop on KCS's passenger route. This week’s featured photo, donated in 1988, shows one of Kansas City Southern’s early diesel passenger liners, the Southern Belle, pulling into the depot at Siloam Springs. The Southern Belle was KCS’s luxury passenger liner running south from Kansas City to New Orleans and vice versa. It began service in 1940 and continued until 1969.

 The Southern Belle entering Siloam Springs.

The Southern Belle entering Siloam Springs.

 A postcard depiction of The Southern Belle. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A postcard depiction of The Southern Belle. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

While streamlined diesel locomotives like this one are no longer in use, there is one still visible only a short drive from Siloam Springs. In Decatur, Arkansas, just next to the highway at the Decatur Museum, a disused KCS diesel locomotive of this type sits available for public viewing. The locomotive has a different paint scheme than the one above, meaning it was used for a different purpose, but it is similar to the locomotive used on the Southern Belle. 

 This Kansas City Southern locomotive is on display in Decatur, Arkansas.

This Kansas City Southern locomotive is on display in Decatur, Arkansas.

According to Kansas City Southern, Harry and Bess Truman sometimes chose the Southern Belle for their travels. The Trumans were not the only members of a presidential couple to ride the KCS rails. Eleanor Roosevelt stopped more than once in Siloam Springs on a KCS train and was once interviewed by Storm Whaley of KUOA, a radio station owned by John Brown University.

 Eleanor Roosevelt in an interview with Storm Whaley of KUOA.

Eleanor Roosevelt in an interview with Storm Whaley of KUOA.

KCS stopped passenger service to Siloam in 1968, using the former passenger depot as a freight only depot. Once passenger service stopped, the passenger waiting area was left unused. Thus, in 1969, the Siloam Springs Museum used the passenger waiting area as an exhibit space, opening in 1971. In 1972, the museum moved to its current location at 112 N Maxwell Street. The depot remained in its place until 1991 when it was destroyed in a fire.

Today, KCS still brings freight to and from Siloam Springs, satisfying many of the town’s shipping needs. Now, Kansas City Southern’s services extend as far south as Mexico and the company has even invested in the Panama Canal Railway Company, the world’s first transcontinental railroad.

 A modern KCS locomotive. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A modern KCS locomotive. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Written by Chuck McClary

Information:
Images of America: Siloam Springs by Don Warden
kcsouthern.com
Siloam Springs Museum archives

Photos:
Images of America: Siloam Springs by Don Warden
Siloam Springs Museum
Siloam Springs Museum archives
Wikimedia Commons