Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Catering to Railroad Travelers in Early Texarkana

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Catering to Railroad Travelers in Early Texarkana

Article excerpt

THE GATEWAY PROJECT IS, IN PART, an historical archaeology study intended to gather information about Texarkana between 1873 and 1900. Texarkana, straddling the Texas-Arkansas border, began as a railroad town in the winter of 1873-1874 with the sale of town lots on the Arkansas side by the Cairo & Fulton Railroad and on the Texas side by the Texas & Pacific Railway. At the juncture of nine railroads stretching across Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, Texarkana was born at a time when America's frontier was being pushed farther west, and the area abounded with virgin pine forests.1 Very few pictures, maps, drawings, published books, or folklore survive from its early era, though.

In 2004, the Gateway Project, with volunteers from the Texas Archeological Society, the Arkansas Archeological Society, and Texarkana College in a four-year study of Texarkana's earliest hotels. In 2004, we excavated the site of the Huckins House Hotel, and in 2006 we excavated the East Side Hotel. These two hotels span the spectrum of accommodations available in Texarkana to railroad travelers. The Huckins House Hotel catered to affluent and moderately well-off white travelers, while the East Side Hotel served African Americans.2

Robert S. Henry noted that railroad expansion caused one set of changes in areas where cities already existed, and another in areas where cities developed as a result of the railroad companies' sales of lots. In already established cities, railroad officials had to devise ways to bring rail lines into the city's core, through rights-of-way that were already built over. Purchase of rights-of-way was expensive and disruptive to cities' infrastructures. On the other hand, where railroads created towns, the rails were actually in place before the town was laid out, thus dictating the very shape of the city. Towns of this nature are recognizable by their geographic footprint. Their shape mirrors the curve, or straight line, of the rails through town.3

Texarkana fits this second pattern. Yet Texarkana's state-line location and nine railroad companies, including the Texas & Pacific, St. Louis and Iron Mountain, Shreveport & Southern, Cairo & Fulton, International & Great Northern, and St. Louis, Arkansas & Texas, created complications in locating a train depot.4 The first depot (1874) was located within the Marquand House Hotel just across Front Street from the railroad tracks on the Arkansas side of town but very near the state line. The second depot (1884) was placed too far into Arkansas for Texas citizens' taste, and they demanded a thirty-minute delay for trains coming from the west before they could cross the state line and stop at the depot on the other side of town. The third depot (1898) was built just east of the state line, making more people happy. However it was not until the late 1920s that construction of the new Union Depot, straddling the state line, satisfied enough residents that the issue was dropped.5

Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg, in the The Trains We Rode, note that railroads shaped the urban landscape in other ways. The number of people traveling by rail into, or through, frontier areas brought a constant demand for both overnight accommodations and quick meal service. Railroad companies either built, or partnered with, hotels to provide the luxury, décor, and facilities that recalled the eastern hotels long associated with the grand style of rail travel.6 In the days before Pullman cars, local hotels had to serve not only as official eating houses but also as destination accommodations for those who were staying in town for a while. Col. E. A. Warren, editor of the Daily Texarkana Independent in the 1880s, frequently wrote about Texarkana's hotels and their ties to the railroads, noting that the economic outlook of the town was directly tied to the number of hotel guests brought in by the trains every night.7

Between 1870 and 1900, local businessmen provided accommodations and dining services through contracts with the railroads. …

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