Perry Rock Island Railroad Depot
The Perry Rock Island Railroad Depot in Perry (Perry County) is a wood-frame structure that was built to support operations on the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad. Constructed in 1918, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on January 8, 2021, after being moved about 150 feet from its original location.
The first railroad in the county was built in 1898 along a route that bypassed the county seat of Perryville (Perry County), due to the mountainous terrain of the area. The Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad established a line about three miles north of Perryville and constructed a temporary depot in what was called North Perryville. The depot served the timber industry in the county. The name of the settlement was quickly shortened to Perry, and a more permanent wooden depot was constructed in 1901.
The arrival of the railroad in Perry led to an explosion of growth in the area, previously sparsely settled. By 1914, Perry had a population of 855, with multiple stores, a bank, a post office, and other businesses, and the town incorporated that year. In 1902, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad purchased the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad, giving it control of the line through Perry and ownership of the depot.
The existing depot continued to serve the line until 1918, when the present structure was completed. The wood-frame building measures eighteen feet wide by sixty-eight feet long and rests directly north of the rail line, which runs east to west. The building is topped with composition shingles, and two red brick chimneys exit the centerline of the pitched roof. Wide eaves are present around the building with knee braces.
The building was designed to include two waiting rooms, divided by the office of the station agent. Due to segregation laws in effect at the time, the two rooms were required to keep white and African American passengers separate. These rooms are located on the eastern two-thirds of the building. The western third of the building served as a freight storage room.
Passenger service at the depot ceased in 1967 when the Rock Island lost a contract to carry mail on the line. The depot continued to serve as a freight facility until 1980, when the Rock Island ended operations due to bankruptcy. The Little Rock and Western Railway began operations in the area a short time later, operating seventy-nine miles of track to continue to service industries in the area.
In the 1980s, the Little Rock and Western Railway constructed a locomotive servicing facility immediately to the north of the depot. With the south edge of the new building directly next to the north wall of the depot, the wide eave along with the supporting knee braces were removed on that side of the structure. At that point, the depot was used as a storage facility and continued in that role until 2017, when the Little Rock and Western began to explore demolishing the depot to allow for additional storage in the area.
This potential destruction led to the inclusion of the depot on the 2018 list of Most Endangered Places in Arkansas compiled by Preserve Arkansas. The city government of Perry donated a plot of land about 150 feet from the original location of the depot, and the building was moved to a temporary location in September 2018 while work began to construct a new foundation.
Multiple agencies and organizations participated in the moving and preservation of the building. The Arkansas Department of Rural Services awarded a grant to the city to make floor repairs. Perry County raised the site of the new location of the depot to prevent flooding. In February 2020, the building was moved to the new site. The Perry County Historical and Genealogical Society hired a local roofing company to put a new roof on the structure in August 2020. Additional work replaced the eave on the north side of the building. Local rail historians, including Michael Hibblen, helped lead efforts to preserve the building.
The building is now owned by the city of Perry, and long-term plans include using the structure as a museum and community building.
For additional information:
Faller, Angelita. “Hibblen Aids Efforts to Save Historic Railroad Depot.” University of Arkansas at Little Rock. https://ualr.edu/news-archive/2018/09/12/hibblen-historic-railroad-depot/ (accessed March 10, 2023).
“Perry Rock Island Railroad Depot.” National Register for Historic Places registration form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Office, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at https://www.arkansasheritage.com/docs/default-source/ahpp-documents/pe0007.nrbd2015b7-d42d-4706-ad15-0ca9b1dcd745.pdf?sfvrsn=6f66c22c_3 (accessed March 10, 2023).
Preserve Arkansas, 2018 Most Endangered Places. https://preservearkansas.org/perry-depot/ (accessed March 10, 2023).
Wolf, Carol. “Perry Rock Island Depot Added to National Register.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, River Valley and Ozark, February 7, 2021, pp. 1V, 2V.
Southeastern Louisiana University
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