Dardanelle, Ola, and Southern Railroad by Clifton Hull

Scan 41Last week’s column discussed Andy Anders, the River Oaks Press and his book about the history of the Mount Magazine Rural Record newspaper.  In that column I mentioned Ander’s 1997 printing of a section of Clifton Hull’s book Shortline Railroads of Arkansas. Originally published in 1969, Hull’s book explores the numerous small connector railroads that zigzagged across the state in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

To help raise awareness and money for the Friends of the Depot organization and the city of Russellville’s acquisition and restoration of the Union Pacific Railroad depot, Anders hand printed copies of the book’s chapter “Dardanelle, Ola, and the Southern Railroad. Beautifully arranged with gorgeous typography and string binding, the book contains a reference map outlining the route of this short rail that ran from Centerville to Ola and connected both passengers and the region’s cotton crops to the river port in Dardanelle.

According to Hull’s research, the key proponent of this shortline rail was a man named C.C. Goodman who advocated the development of this shortline to benefit the prominent plantation owners in the region. The idea was to link the rail to the Choctaw, Oklahoma, and Gulf railroad, located about fourteen miles south of Dardanelle. Goodman organized local plantation owners John B. Crownover, C.B, Cotton, and Fred Phillips and gained a charter on May 1st of 1906 for what they dubbed the Dardanelle, Ola, and Southern.

Over the next few years, timberland was cleared to make way for both the railroad and for the growing cotton industry, a livelihood for both the rich landowners and the poor sharecroppers and tenant farmers upon whom the economy was built. There were delays in construction, but on November 26, 1907, writes Hull, a “first-class banquet was held at Miller’s Hall in Dardanelle to celebrate completion of the road and to honor Goodman, Phillips, Crownover, and Cotton as chief promoters.” By 1909, says Hull, the D S &O was becoming a “full-grown railroad.” By 1911, however, the railroad defaulted on their loans and was eventually sold to the Rock Island and Dardanelle Railway Company. In 1915 the two-story depot in Dardanelle burned and was replaced, explains Hull, by a smaller depot with a “traditional bay window next to the main line to accommodate the telegraph operator.”

For some years the tracks continued to be used by the Fort Smith, Subiaco, and Rock Island Line until March of 1938 when a wrecking crew from Chicago came to Dardanelle to dismantle the tracks. By that time hard surface roads had replaced the needs of the rails and the economy itself was in transition. “Rusty spikes were pulled from soft, aging ties, fishplates were unbolted, and rails were loaded on flatcars,” writes Hull. “The Dardanelle to Ola railroad was abandoned.”

Do you remember the days of the railroad or remember hearing your relatives discussing it? Were you related to one of the wealthy men who advocated for the creation of the rail? Did your relatives work the cotton farms as tenant farmers or sharecroppers? I’d love to hear your stories. For information about contacting Andy Anders and more on his River Oaks Press visit last week’s column here. 

————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

The Seed and the Story is a partnership with the Courier and Post Dispatch newspapers in Pope and Yell County, Arkansas. This weekly column explores folklife, oral history, and community in central Arkansas, particularly the Yell County area where the column originates. Columns are often written in partnership with the McElroy House: Organization for Folklife, Oral History, and Community Action and humbly attempt to bridge intergenerational themes in the region.