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Arkansas Properties on the National Register of Historic Places: Carlisle Rock Island Depot, Carlisle, Lonoke County

Arkansas Historic Preservation Program - Tuesday, January 08, 2019

The Carlisle Rock Island Railroad Depot at Carlisle in Lonoke County was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 14, 1990. 

Summary

The Carlisle Rock Island Depot, constructed c.1920, is locally significant both for its status as an outstanding example of the Tudor Revival architectural style, which became popular during the 1920’s in Arkansas for various types of buildings, and for its associations both with the company that built it, the Rock Island Railroad, which provided the only direct passenger and cargo service between Little Rock, Arkansas, and Memphis, Tennessee, after 1899, and with the growth and development of the rice farming town of Carlisle.

Elaboration

The town of Carlisle was founded on August 1, 1872, when Samuel McCormick and his wife, L. J. McCormick, made and entered into a bill of assurance wherein as co-owners they laid off into lots and blocks the northwest quarter of Section 22, Township 2 North, Range 7 West of the 5th principal meridian, and made a plat of the survey. The plat and bill of assurance were then recorded in the Recorder’s Office of Prairie County in the state of Arkansas, to be known as the town of Carlisle (one local legend maintains that Mr. McCormick named the town after Carlisle, Pennsylvania, of which he had reputedly been a resident, though another holds that the town was named for a friend who had been a senator in another state). Carlisle became an incorporated community on August 28, 1878.

The fledgling Memphis and Little Rock Railroad had laid track between DeVall’s Bluff and Huntersville (now North Little Rock) as early as 1862, passing through the area which would later become the town of Carlisle. The Civil War delayed any non-military use of the track for three years and it was not until 1871 that the railroads leading in and out of the Little Rock area began to grow to any appreciable degree. By then, Huntersville had become the terminus of three separate railroads: the Memphis and Little Rock, the Cairo and Fulton (running southwest from Cairo, Illinois, to Fulton, Arkansas) and the Little Rock and Fort Smith. By this time, the rail line between Little Rock and Memphis was clearly beginning to take on a more active and permanent cast.

The lasting impact of the railroads on this corridor through eastern Arkansas only became more evident in 1899, when the Memphis and Little Rock Railroad, which had experienced chronic financial and construction setbacks, was purchased by the Choctaw and Memphis Railroad, which by 1904 had become known as the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (commonly known as the Rock Island Railroad). The financial solvency of the Rock Island Railroad allowed it to embark on a campaign of gradual progress and studied expansion throughout the first several decades of the twentieth century, resulting in such new endeavors as the addition of a line from Little Rock to the Louisiana border that accessed the newly-discovered oil reserves and rich agricultural and forest land of south central Arkansas.

The success of the Rock Island Railroad also resulted in improvements and expansion for their passenger and freight depots. The second decade of the twentieth century had seen the erection of handsome brick depots by the Rock Island in the prosperous and growing communities of Argenta and Lonoke; however, communities such as Carlisle, which had yet to experience their peak period of prosperity, continued to be serviced by simpler, wood frame depots.

By 1920, the situation had changed dramatically, largely due to the success of the local rice industry. Incidental planting of rice in the prairie region around Carlisle had begun in the late nineteenth century, but in 1904 William H. Fuller of Lonoke produced the first profitable crop and thus demonstrated to the local farmers that rice farming could be a viable economic endeavor. From then until the First World War the foundation of this agricultural activity – now a mainstay of the Arkansas economy – was laid. Population grew rapidly and new settlement was encouraged by publicity campaigns of the Rock Island Railroad. These efforts succeeded in bringing thousands of immigrants from Illinois and Iowa who had previously emigrated from Germany and who, in addition to settling in existing towns as Carlisle, would found such nearby communities as Slovak and Stuttgart.

The situation was similar in Hazen, approximately 10 miles to the east, which also served as a major debarkation point for new settlers who came to partake of the prosperity offered by the success of rice farming. Thus it is not surprising that both Carlisle and Hazen received new, more architecturally impressive depots to declare the permanence of these communities and shelter the new arrivals. Like the Hazen Depot (NR-listed 12/22/87), the Carlisle Depot is significant both because of its direct connections with the growth and prosperity of the city of Carlisle during the seminal period of the rice industry in eastern Arkansas and because of its status as the best example in the city of Carlisle of the Tudor Revival style. However, its architectural significance is further enhanced by its iconography and the national associations that its Tudor Revival style held for the Germanic and Eastern European immigrants which the railroad so deliberately attempted to court. We may never know whether or not the railroad’s designers were successful; yet it is clear that their intent was for these people to consider the Carlisle Depot as a symbol of home, familiar and welcoming, which told them that this place to which they had come was not so strange and unfriendly.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Adams, Walter, North Little Rock, The Unique City, (Little Rock, 1986).

Centennial Celebration, City of Carlisle, 1878-1978, (1978).

Freeman, Felton D., “Immigration to Arkansas,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 7, 1948.

“Raising Rice In Arkansas”, The Southwest Trail (published by the Rock Island Railroad), July, 1915.

Wood, Stephen E., “The Development of Arkansas Railroads”, Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 7, 1948.



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