The Helena Depot was constructed in 1912 for the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Located at 95 Missouri Street in Helena-West Helena (Phillips County), it was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 5, 1987.
Established as a river port, Helena was connected by rail to the outside world in the 1870s. Helena was a popular destination for many businesses, as the transfer fees charged in the nearby city of Memphis, Tennessee, were much higher than those charged in the Arkansas town. By the turn of the century, five lines passed through or terminated in the town.
A depot belonging to the Arkansas Midland Railroad was located on the site when that line was purchased in 1901 by Jay Gould, the owner of the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad; his holdings eventually evolved into the Missouri Pacific. The earliest mention of the current depot appears on a 1914 Sanborn Fire Insurance map. The depot was completed by 1918. It was constructed of red brick with reddish mortar, with the bricks having rounded edges. The building faces north and is three bays wide. The front of the building, which is two bays deep, is two stories tall, and the rear of the building is a single story.
The building was constructed with a steel frame and rests on a poured concrete foundation. It is topped with a hipped roof covered in composition shingles, and decorative knee braces support the large overhanging eaves. Barrel tiles might have covered the roof at the time of construction. Limestone accents appear throughout the building in the lintels, sills, and belt courses. Entrance into the building is gained through a centrally located door on the front of the structure, covered by a shed roof. Arched windows are located on either side of the front door, topped with fan lights. The remaining windows in the building include rectangular panes grouped in pairs and topped with a horizontal pane.
At the time of the depot’s nomination to the National Register, a brick platform wrapped around the structure and extended about seventy yards to the south. Much of this platform was later removed. Constructed just to the west of the levee next to the Mississippi River, the building has a number of freight doors located on the south end. The north end of the building was originally used for passengers, while the south end held freight. The two sections were separated by a breezeway when the building was originally constructed, but this opening was later bricked in. When nominated to the National Register in 1987, the building was owned by the Union Pacific Railroad, and parts of the structure were boarded up.
The building was purchased by the state of Arkansas, and its interior was extensively restored. It opened to the public in 1990 as the first structure to house the Delta Cultural Center. In the twenty-first century, it continues to be part of the center, offering exhibits related to the Delta, the Civil War, and railroads.
For additional information:
Delta Cultural Center. http://www.deltaculturalcenter.com/ (accessed June 18, 2019).
“Helena Depot.” National Register for Historic Places registration form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Office, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/PH0090.nr.pdf (accessed June 18, 2019).
Henderson State University
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