Missouri and North Arkansas Depot (Leslie)

The Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad (M&NA) depot in Leslie (Searcy County) is a passenger and freight train station that was constructed circa 1925 in the Plain Traditional style. The single-story stone masonry structure, located at the southwest end of Walnut Street, was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 11, 1992.

The town of Leslie, situated in the northern Arkansas Ozark Mountains on a tributary of the Middle Fork of the Little Red River, was an isolated and remote community during much of the nineteenth century. In 1902, its population was about fifty people. However, in 1903, the potential of Leslie’s natural resources convinced the M&NA to extend its line from Harrison (Boone County) to the town, so finished lumber and building materials could be sent from Leslie to the growing resort community of Eureka Springs (Carroll County). The first train entered Leslie on September 6, 1903, sparking a rapid expansion of lumbering and milling operations in and around the town. The timber industry became the main source of employment for the community’s residents and also drew related industries, such as the H. D. Williams Cooperage Company, a producer of wooden barrels, which claimed in its heyday to be the largest such operation of its kind in the world. With this development, the town’s population reached 1,898 by 1910.

In 1906, following a period of reorganization, the M&NA began planning to extend a line south from Leslie, its former terminus, to Searcy (White County) and eventually to Helena (Phillips County). Construction on the seventy-five-mile stretch between Leslie and Pangburn (White County) began in February 1907. Over 1,500 laborers worked on this section of the line, which extended southward through the only natural pass in the Boston Range of the Ozark Mountains near Leslie.

The Leslie depot was constructed southwest of downtown and sits just to the east of the former M&NA rail line. Constructed of ashlar-finished stone walls that rest upon a continuous stone foundation, the single-story rectangular structure is topped by a hipped roof with bellcast projecting eaves. The decorative, pressed-tin roof is crested along the ridge and features two finials and two brick chimneys. The depot originally had a café located at its north end.

The side of the depot facing the former tracks is accented by a series of window openings of various sizes surrounding the projecting three-sided telegraph operator’s bay, which itself originally held three symmetrically placed windows in the front and a single window on each side. The opposite side of the building also includes a series of window openings, which originally held single and double panes. The south side of this wall consists of a large pair of sliding freight doors flanked by two horizontal window openings placed just beneath the roofline. In 2013, the Leslie depot still retained its sliding freight doors and some of the original pressed tin ceiling. By this time, only the frames remained from the exposed original windows, though the several that were boarded over and obscured from view may have retained their glass.

After years of declining financial fortunes, receivership, and foreclosure, the M&NA eventually ceased operations in September 1946. Salvage of the tracks began in 1949. Given that little evidence of the railroad remains in downtown Leslie in the twenty-first century, the M&NA Depot stands as a historic remnant of one of Arkansas’s most regionally significant early twentieth-century railroads. The Derickson Lumber Company took ownership of the depot and surrounding property and began using the building for storage.

For additional information:
Baker, William D. “Historic Railroad Depots of Arkansas, 1840–1970.” Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. https://www.arkansaspreservation.com/_literature_133238/Historic_Railroad_Depots_of_Arkansas,_1870–1940 (accessed November 23, 2019).

Handley, Lawrence R. “Settlement across Northern Arkansas as Influenced by the Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 33 (Winter 1974): 273–292.

“Missouri and North Arkansas Depot-Leslie.” National Register for Historic Places registration form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Office, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at https://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/SE0004.nr.pdf (accessed November 23, 2019).

Kenneth Angell
Henderson State University

Last Updated: 11/23/2019