Old railroad depots

Monday, September 24, 2018

Depots or train stations, once upon a time, were lively places for passenger and freight business. Saline County had two railroad lines, The Chicago and Alton and the Missouri Pacific with depots. Within the boundaries of Saline County in the 1930s and early 1940s, the Alton (GM&O) had seven operating depots and one part-time depot. They were Gilliam, Slater, Norton, Marshall, Shackelford, Mt. Leonard and Blackburn, with a part-time station at Harmony. Shortly thereafter, only Marshall and Slater remained.

A popular memory for my husband was riding the train to Napton to visit his grandmother when he was a youngster in the 1930s. She lived on Main Street, just across from the depot, so it was an ideal destination.

Another spot that was popular for folks in the 1920s was the recreation spot at Wilton Springs, located 6 miles southeast of Marshall. The water had a strong sulphur taste and smell, but was thought to be healing and healthful. The train, the same one to Napton, stopped at Wilton Springs, letting off droves of people, even though there was no depot. Many church and family picnics were held there in the spring and summer.

In the summer of 1953, the station at Malta Bend was included in a Missouri Pacific modernization program and was selected as a communication site with a radio and transmitter installation. That allowed agent Rex Sloan not only to talk to stations at Sedalia and Jefferson City, but to also communicate with trains along the railroad some 15 miles from the station. Who remembers this — The station at Malta Bend appeared on the live telecast show, “NBC-TV’s Wide, Wide World Show,” Sunday, March 3, 1958? The title of the episode was, “Flag Stop at Malta Bend,” and it featured one passenger and one freight train. Station Agent Rex Sloan, his son Todd, and Eastern Division Superintendent C.C. Courtway were interviewed during the 90-minute show.

Marshall’s two depots — the Missouri Pacific and the Chicago and Alton were looked upon as architectural standouts, unlike the generic designs so often created today.

The Missouri Pacific (MoPac) sat below the U.S. Post Office on Lafayette Street. Hailed for its uncluttered design, it was a source of local pride with its red brick exterior and prominent roof, of which one end was remarkably rounded and its welcoming arched entrance. Service discontinued on March 28, 1950, when the Toonerville Trolley or the Puddle Jumper, names favored by locals, made its last run. The MoPac Depot was demolished in 1980. The depot site is now part of the ConAgra facility.

The other station, the C&A Depot, still sits elevated above the connection of Sebree and Russell streets, a few blocks north of the downtown square. Its architect was Jarvis Hunt, who also designed Kansas City Union Station. Local contractor E.R. Page built it. The C&A is or, perhaps more correctly, was (re: its current condition) an impressive mix of Jacobethan and Mission styles, a red brick exterior with lighter colored stone trim. Details include a red tiled roof, repeating scalloped parapets, and lots of windows. It has a basement and a covered portico, a rare addition at small stations. Boarded up for years, it still stands, thanks to having a roof replacement some years ago, and its National Register of Historic Building status.

Imagine back in the early 1900s arriving at one of these depots and the delightful ambiance you would have experienced. A glance to the south presented the cupola of the grand Saline County Courthouse. A short walk east and you were at the beautiful Virginia Hotel (now Mexico Lindo) with its sunken garden. There you would have been treated to a delicious repast and comfortable lodging. What a lovely destination that must have been.

This story is continued from the story, “Trains and Old Railway Depots of Saline County, MO.” It first appeared in the © 2016 Marshall Writers’ Guild book, Saline County Structures and Stories. Its author,Virginia Sprigg, is a member of MWG.