Vintage Bentonville

OPINION | Randy McCrory - The short-lived interurban railroad between Bentonville and Rogers was unlike anything Benton County had ever seen

This photo show how long the Interurban train was as it sits on A Street in front of the Massy Hotel in Bentonville.

(Courtesy photo)
This photo show how long the Interurban train was as it sits on A Street in front of the Massy Hotel in Bentonville. (Courtesy photo)

The Arkansas Northwestern Railroad Company, better known as the Interurban, only ran for a brief period of time, but it is well remembered in Bentonville and Rogers history.

The first talk of this Interurban line started in 1908, when several meetings took place to talk about an electric train that would run from Joplin, Mo. to Tontitown via Bentonville and Rogers. The original plans for this line were much larger than what was actually built. One of the biggest promoters of this plan was Mr. H. L. Cross, who was the editor of the Bentonville Sun newspaper.

By 1910, survey work was started, but the plans of the line had shortened to Gentry through Bentonville to Rogers. A lot of the money for this plan was from the owner of the Park Springs Hotel, G. C. Sutherland, who was the president of the rail company. The line would run to his hotel in Bentonville. The Bentonville City Council granted a 40 year franchise to the railroad for building on streets in town.

A charter for the railroad was not granted until 1912, but it was not until 1914 that work actually began on the railroad. They were having problems getting the money to build the route they were hoping for and settled on a line between Rogers and Bentonville.

The railroad had a lease to use the main Frisco line from Rogers to Bentonville. But a separate line was to come off the main line and run down Second Street to a platform by the Frisco Depot near Cherry Street in Rogers – a distance of about 1.1 miles.

In Bentonville, the railroad line left the main Frisco line just before the train depot and went down A Street, stopping at the Park Springs Hotel. About one mile of track would be laid in Bentonville. The line was to be built by "The Ozark Trust Co." of Springfield, Mo.

The building of the railroad was stopped several times with injunctions by the Rogers Light & Water Co. and the City of Bentonville. They were concerned that the water line in Bentonville might be damaged due to the grading, which only left the line inches below the ground in places.

The court determined that neither side was in compliance with city ordinances. The city had not followed their own ordinances and buried their lines at the required depth, and the water lines should not have been located in the middle of the road. The courts sided with the railroad line and it was completed in 1914.

The rail car used on the line was a McKeen motor car that was made in Omaha, Neb. There were only 152 of these McKeen cars built between 1905 and 1915. This train was like nothing Benton County had ever seen -- nor has it ever seen anything like it since.

The coach was painted red and had black and gold lettering, and the windows were portholes. It arrived in Bentonville on June 30, 1914. The car was 92 feet long and could hold 130 passengers. It had a small room for baggage and mail. The coach usually operated with a three man crew.

The line made its first run with great fanfare on July 1, 1914. Several hundred Bentonville citizens and a band made the trip to Rogers for an informal reception. Later that day people from Rogers made the trip to Bentonville and had a picnic at Park Springs.

With the beginning of the new rail car service, Frisco ended its passenger car service to Bentonville. But with that, mail service to Bentonville was also stopped. They had to quickly make arrangements for the Interurban to carry the mail to Bentonville.

The Interurban made seven round trips a day from Bentonville to Rogers. The first left Bentonville at 6:15 a.m., and the last arrived back in town at 11:30 p.m. It made stops at Park Springs Hotel, Massey Hotel, Arlan Spur, Apple Spur, then arrived at S. Second and Cherry Streets in Rogers. At that location, there was a roofed passenger platform about a block from the new Frisco Depot.

In the evening, the coach was usually full of people going to shows or for a visit. On days when there were carnivals, baseball games or fairs, every trip would be standing room only. At the beginning the fare to ride the rail car was 15 cents.

The rail car used a newly developed internal combustion technology. This new technology never proved to be completely reliable. Once, in 1915, the line was down for 10 days. On occasion, passengers found themselves stranded in one town or the other. Some ended up walking home. In Bentonville, they had facilities to house and service the rail car.

The rail car line had a rather good first year. It made 2,136 trips, carrying a total of 70,767 passengers.

By 1916, automobiles started to take the place of trolley and the rail car line found itself in financial trouble. By this time rates to travel the line had gone up to 21 cents one way or 40 cents round trip.

In June of 1916, the Frisco company called for the payment of back rent on its line, which they said was long overdue. They also raised the rental rates for the use of Frisco tracks used by the Interurban. At that time, service between the two cities was discontinued.

Not long after that, Frisco ordered the Interurban off its tracks. People were told that service would soon return. But before they knew it, the Interurban rail car had been sold. At this time, the people of Bentonville demanded that since Frisco had put the Interurban out of business, Frisco needed to resume passenger and mail service to Bentonville.

In 1918, Charles D. Haney of Haney Realty was named receiver of the Northwest Arkansas Railway and was to close up the affairs of the company.

The old rail line in Bentonville was not taken up until early 1918. The roads were then graded back to level. In Rogers, no one was sure who had the authority to tear up the tracks. The city condemned the tracks and it is believed that the Rogers Street Department finally took them up.

  photo  The inaugural run of the Interuban line made its first run from Bentonville to Rogers with great fanfare on July 1, 1914. On that day, several hundred Bentonville citizens and a band made the trip to Rogers for an informal reception. Later people from Rogers made the trip to Bentonville and had a picnic at Park Springs. This photo was taken from beside the Massey Hotel. (Courtesy photo)
  photo  This is the Interurban train sitting at the corner of Walnut and Second St. in Rogers. (Courtesy photo)

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