"when the whistles Blew"

The title was brought back to me a little while ago when I was sitting outside and heard the local Arkansas and Missouri freight train blowing it's whistle frequently as it came into Bentonville. They have some box cars on the siding at SE 8th where the track now ends and also deliver sand to the local concrete company and, as they do, blow the whistle at every intersection every time they move back and forth into the city.

The old line used to run from where it stops now, down towards SE J Street next to the old Wal-Mart Warehouse #2 which is now the return center and sample store. It angled Northwest to near SE D and 4th past the old Ice House and where the Eagle Mill once stood. There was a siding there that veered north and then made a dead end where the city shop is now at SE 3rd and D. There was an apple evaporator there years ago, when apple was king of Benton County, and when they added onto the shop, they found a large diameter pipe that ran north to parts unknown. My guess was that it ran downhill to the "Largest Brandy Distillery West of the Mississippi" at Old Wayne Road and NE 2nd so that apple squeezin's (an Ozark term for sure) could be flowed in to be made into brandy.

From SE D and 4th the line  ran west past the Farmer's Co-Op and the depot at South Main then continued west and then slightly southwest past (or maybe even through) what is now the Wal-Mart Home Office, continuing southwest and then west about 150 yards north of Highway 102 toward Centerton and westward. The pictures of this old rail bed are elsewhere on this site.

Back to the original thought - the phrase "When the Whistles Blew" is located in J. Dickson Black's History of Benton County, heading a hand drawn map of Benton County rail lines drawn by Clarence A. Harris in 1964.

Railroads have always fascinated me. It is difficult to understand today what an impact these trains had around the turn of the century in our area. They were, for the day, unbelievably powerful, fast, and especially, loud. There was nothing like it - a humongous piece of machinery that could move faster than anything anyone had seen.

Robert G. Winn, the known expert in Northwest Arkansas railroads and railroads in general, has the perfect prologue in his book "Railroads of Northwest Arkansas." (Find one here on Amazon if available at http://www.amazon.com/Railroads-northwest-Arkansas-Robert-Winn/dp/B0006EO5MY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1368666502&sr=8-1&keywords=railroads+of+northwest+arkansas I got my copy on eBay.)

"During the early part of this century when railroading was at its peak, the Frisco daily ran two fast trains through the Ozarks. The only stop these fast passenger trains made between Fayetteville and Van Buren was at Winslow. Through all the other small villages along the route (which came into the county where it does now at Gateway on it's way south to Fayetteville) they travelled at such terrific speed that they were called by local residents 'The Cannonballs.' They stopped for absolutely nothing. Children were cautioned to be wary of crossing the tracks when these trains were due. They went so fast that an unwary child caught on the tracks as the train approached would only have seconds to get out of the way.

Very little persuasion was needed to make children aware of the danger. Stock was allowed free range and often cows, horses, pigs, and household pets met their death under the grinding wheels of these 'Cannonballs.' The sight of an animal being crushed and its bloody carcass dragged along the track was enough to fill the most daring child with the dread of the swift moving locomotives."

Porter (later Schaberg) in northern Crawford County seemed to fall victim to more than its share of these grisly accidents. Situated as it was in the narrow valley with a long stretch of track dividing the town, the place was especially vulnerable.

One mile north of the crossing at Porter stood the 'whistling post.' When a train approaching from the north reached the post, its engineer blew a long doleful whistle. With this signal, travelling at a speed of sixty miles an hour, the train was through town in less than a minute. A series of short, sharp blasts from the whistle alerted all within earshot that some living creature was on the track. Most animals thus caught moved too slowly to escape, even if they were frightened enough by the whistle to attempt a run."

Thanks to Robert Winn for that perfect description. While reviewing the Obituaries of Benton County between 1888 and 1935 (available on CD from the Benton County Historical Society) one can see many instances of death by train. Most were from railroad workers who were unlucky enough to fall between the cars while trying to set a brake, pin a coupling, or just losing balance. There were several horrendous wrecks involving vehicles, including one particularly nasty one in Lowell involving the train and a gasoline truck. But in several instances, the train just ran over some innocent person wandering along the track headed for home or town, overtaken by the fastest machine on wheels. There are even a few instances of bodies being found alongside the track that remained unidentified and unclaimed, usually tramps or hobos who lost their balance while riding the rails.

Today in the age of supersonic flight, nascar speeds at over 200 mph, and cars daily on the interstate at 90 mph or more, these old accounts seem nearly unbeliveable. But early in the 20th century when horses were the top mode of transportation and early automobiles moved at twenty or thirty mph, the train was an awesome spectacle, when the whistle blew...

The Jesse James Gang Robs Bentonville Business


I was reading through some of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Programs listings for Bentonville Buildings - at www.arkansaspreservation.com/historic-properties/_search_nomination_popup.aspx

and I came upon the entry for the Charles R. Craig building located at 113 South Main Street. It was nominated for the National Registry of Historic Places as the best example of a two-story commercial building featuring pressed-tin facade in downtown Bentonville.

By 1837, according to the article, the town had at least 30 settlers, including a Samuel Burks, the owner of the Elk Horn Tavern, which is the site of the Battle of Pea Ridge in March 1862. Burks was listed as the first proeprty owner of 113 South Main Street. By the year 1860, the town of Bentonville contained five general stores, the furniture store of Henry Baumeister, the Vestal Hotel, the saddle and harness shop of J.W. Clark, the Clark Hotel, and three or four mechanics shops. Bentonville was growing considerably with 500 residents.

in 1852 James T. Craig becamse a resident of Bentonville. He engaged in merchandising until the Civil War broke out. At the beginning of thwar he left Bentonville and returned to Cane Hill and continued farming until 1871. At that time he returned to Bentonville to continue merchandising until 1882 when he turned his business over to his sons.

Charles R. Craig was born in 1854 and was in the real estate business in Bentonville. He was also engaged in the mercantile establishment of Craig & Sons. Charles and his brother, George, became involved with the growth of the Kansas City, Pittsburg & Gulf Railroad and were active in procurements of rights-of-way and the laying of the rail lines. George, who incidentally was the first fire chief in Bentonville, later became a prosperous businessman and banker in Galveston, Texas.

Little is known of the actual use of the Craig Building. We do know from the Sanborn Maps that the building was used as an office on the first floor and a photography studio on the second floor. One can assume that Mr. Craig used the first story office space for his real estate business, as the building's close proximity to the dourthouse would have made it an ideal location for such a business.

Little did we know that it was also the scene of a robbery by one of the United States' most famous gang of robbers, the James Gang. Sometime in February, 1874 - exact date unknown, the robbers, who were fresh off of a train robbery at Gad's Hill Missouri, headed to Arkansas after the robbery. The gang included Jesse James, brother Frank James, Cole, Bob, and John Younger, and maybe Clell Miller and/or Arthur McCoy. Soon after their arrival in Bentonville they robbed the Craig & Sons General store of around two hundred dollars, with various goods and merchandise as well. They apparently were not met with any resistance by the town citizens and rode out of Bentonville after the robbery was completed.

 The Craig Building as it looks today, home of Randy Lawson's Lawco Exploration


James was known to frequent the area around the Missouri line in what was then known as Caverna, although the town is long gone. (my Great-great grandfather was postmaster there) It was rumored that the gang would hole up in the big cave on Bear Hollow Road at the state line and it was even rumored that they could travel underground, undetected, all the way to the Wonderland Cave off Dartmoor, although this has never been proven.



James was finally and famously gunned down in 1882 by the outlaw Bob Ford while a guest in James' home.


Oddly enough this wasn't the only time Jesse James visited Bentonville. In March 2010, he and then wife Oscar winner Sandra Bullock made an appearance around Bentonville, two days before the break-up of their marriage, likely leaving a bad taste of Bentonville in the mouths of both. Different Jesse James I guess but still a nasty visit to Bentonville all the same...


J. Dickson Black, a Bentonville Original

Some of you may remember J. Dickson Black. I reference him many times in my blogs because for many years he was the unofficial historian of Benton County and wrote several small books about the communities and one rather large book about the history of Benton County, which can be purchased here :http://www.amazon.com/History-Benton-County-Dickson-Black/dp/B0006CJT4K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1346125586&sr=8-1&keywords=history+of+benton+county

Mr. Black was born February 16, 1925 in Chicago, Illinois to James and Edna Leach Black. He was an Army veteran of World War II, serving in the CB 631 Tank Infantry and division of Patton's Infantry. He graduated from photography school in Seattle, Wash. He married Wilma Rhoades on June 28, 1952. He moved to Bentonville in 1952 and opened Black's Studio. He was the author of many local history books, including "History of Benton County." In 1978, he started the Bentonville Square Farmers' Market. He also refinished furniture after retiring from photography.

His photography hobby led to a career as a writer of local columns in the Benton County Democrat, as the paper was known then. It was through this column that he interviewed many individuals over the course of his life and translated these stories into columns and eventually into his book. This manner of writing caused the book to have a marked lack of footnotes, as most of the interviews he collected himself or found in back issues of the newspaper. But the information is still largely correct, as remembered by the folks he interviewed.

He took over the mantle of historian for the county after Alvin Seamster, retired postman, lawyer, judge, and expert historian, especially of the Battle of Pea Ridge, got tired of being the unofficial historian. Seamster passed away about the same year the book came out.

He was slightly eccentric (aren't we all) and could be seen around the square at the farmer's market wearing a tall top hat.

Mr. Black passed away on August 14, 2004. I think it is important for us to all remember the contributions he made to the documentation of the history of our county. He has passed forward many interviews and anecdotes that would have been lost if it weren't for his passion for history.

I tip my hat to him and I borrow liberally from his work. I will always try to cite him when possible but I wanted everyone to know the part he played.

The Old "Opera House" on the Bentonville Square


Taken from J. Dickson Black's "History of Benton County"

"The old Opera House building which stood on the northeast corner of the square in Bentonville, was taken down in 1962 to make way for the Bank of Bentonville. (now Arvest - Larry)

The Opera building, as it was called for years, was built a year or so after the bad fire of the winter of 1880-81, which burned most of the north side of the square. But there is no date as to when it was built. "

The lot was originally sold by T.M. Duckworth to James Caldwell on April 3, 1849. It was just part of a trasaction in which Caldwell bought several hundred acres. in 1872, R. N. Corley sold this lot to J. D. Harston for $900, a price which would indicate that there was some kind of a building here then. A year later J. T. and C.R. Craig bought the lot.

Black says that he had been unable to find out who had the opera house built, but in talking to Jim Craig in 1960 he said that he could remember his father talking about having rented it for plays or programs at the time he and Jim's grandfather owned the place.

Col. Sam Peel owned the building in the late 1880's and it changed hands many times over the years.



"People in Bentonville saw all types of vaudeville and stage shows here. It is said that after the railroad came (1882) some of the best acts in the country stopped and made a one-night show here. Throughout the year there would be programs. As on the night of February 3, 1888 when there was a band benefit concert by Alex Black's band, a local group with other short acts to fill in. Alex Black's cornet solo of the Lauterback Waltz and a violin solo, The Last Rose of Summer...were highlights of the program that played to a full house. On August 31, 1892, Richards and Pringle brought their famous minstrel show here for a on-night stand. The Famous Georgias, as it was called, was the only legitimate all-colored minstrel show in the country." (please - Mr. Black's language, not mine!)

"The night of January 2, 1893 was a benefit night. The program was put on by the children and parents of the 'colored school.' They were raising money to repair the roof of the school. Price was 25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children, and this included a light lunch."

"Another highlight in the entertainment world here at the opera house was the political speeches. If the weather was bad they would hold the rally here. The oldtimers say that these old time politicians had a lot more wind and talked longer than a candidate does today.

In 1898, along came a new and different entertainment that was (known as) the Chautauqua era, and for a few years each summer you could hear a lecture, band music, singing, oratory, or amybe a little of each if you stayed for the whole program.

I (Black) found no one who could remember what the inside of the opera house was like at first. The building was two stories and there were two business rooms in the front at ground level. You went in from the front and upstairs. Some think that the inside was all balcony and it looked down at the stage that was in the back of the building..."

"Sometime around 1900 the building was remodeled. The upstairs had a stage a seats; the downstairs was made into a store. At one time Jackson's Grocery was here. In 1914, the Ozark Trails Garage moved in downstairsin place of the store, and it stayed here until about 1921. It was run by Ed. Pace and Clyde Adams.

The Mo-Hawk Dance Club was held here upstairs every Saturday night frm about 1911 to 1914. At that time there was a stairway outside the east side of the building. In 1914 the building was condemned and they stopped using the upstairs.

During World War I the US Government used the upstairs as an armory. The 142nd Field Artillery was stationed here for some time. they slept upstairs and drilled in the street in front of the building.

About 1922 the building was bought by M. J. Kilburn who had it rebuilt into a movie picture house. The entrance was again moved to the front of the building. The inside had a stage downstairs and seats down, as well as up in the balcony. There were two small rooms in the front that opened onto the street in front of the building. These were rented for small cafes or real estate offices. The big outside balcony was taken down and a marquee was put up. The building was used as a theater until a few years before it was taken down. The last few years before the building was razed, it was used only for storage."

Now me - this was one of four movie theaters that the town had at one time or another. If I remember correctly, this was known as the Royal. There was also the Cozy, which was in the spot where the Station Cafe is now. Then in the Blevins Building which was later Black's Clothing Store was originally the Meteor theater. Then when I was young it was the Plaza, which was (and is) still located on the corner of West Central and A.


                          The Plaza Theater - 273-2222 for those of you who remember


The Meteor Theater, on the left. About 1920.


The Bentonville Interurban - Local Mass Transit that was Ahead of its Time

I have become friends, over the internet, with Keith Jones, who is vice-president at URS Corporation in Little Rock. His company specializes...well let me paste from their website..."URS Corporation is a leading provider of engineering, construction and technical services for public agencies and private sector companies around the world. The Company offers a full range of program management; planning, design and engineering; systems engineering and technical assistance; construction and construction management; operations and maintenance; and decommissioning and closure services for federal, oil and gas, infrastructure, power, and industrial projects and programs"

They are presenting a proposal to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission regarding the development and feasibility in the future of light rail travel in Northwest Arkansas.

Keith emailed me a couple of years ago about Bentonville railroads and history and especially of the Interurban railroad. It made me think that now would be a good time to explain the old rail line and it's story.

Monte Harris provided this picture which is a favorite photo among those looking for information on this old line, courtesy of the Rogers Historical Museum:


The train itself reads "Bentonville Park Springs and Rogers." According to the section on the Interurban in J. Dickson Black's History of Benton County, talk of the first trolley in Benton County began in 1912 when a charter was granted to the Arkansas Northwest Railroad Co. to run an interurban train between Bentonville and Rogers. The company got the franchise from Rogers to operate its car down the center of second street from Cherry north to the intersection with the Frisco track which ran to Bentonville.

In Bentonville they left the main Frisco line just west of the Bentonville Station.


The rail would have turned north just in the foreground of this picture.

The rails ran right down the middle of the street. The train stopped at the Massey Hotel, then continued on to Park Springs Hotel at the north end of town.

On July 1st, 1914, several hundred Bentonville citizens and a band went to Rogers on the first trips of the new motor car, and an informal reception was held. A little later Rogers returned the call and a dinner and picnic was held at Park Springs.

The fare was 15 cents at first and the car made several trips each day. The motor car, as Black called it, was not always reliable and missed a good many trips. But this was alot better than have just one run a day like the Frisco made with their train that ran from Rogers to Grove, Oklahoma.

The train was far different from any the people in Benton County had ever seen before. It was a big red coach trimmed in black with gold lettering. The engine was in one end of the long coach and next to this was a small baggage room. The coach was 92 feet long inside. The passenger part seated about 130. Sometimes there was standing room only.

The line was owned by J. D. Southerland, that is, he owned both ends of it. Mr. Southerland came to Bentonville in the fall of 1913, and bought the Park Springs Hotel. At that time it was a large and beautiful summer resort. But it was hard for people to get from the Frisco station in Rogers to the hotel.

Mr. Southerland made a deal with the Frisco Railroad line to run his train on their track from Rogers to Bentonville. The only trains running was a passenger train to Grove that went out in the morning and back at night. Then there were a few freight runs. Mr. Southerland made his runs between these.

The Rogers station was just a roofed over platform a block from their Frisco station. There was a shop and shed at the Bentonville end of the line, and the train was kept here overnight. At that time the streets were all dirt, so when they laid the track they used short ties and built the track in the center of the road. The wagons and what few cars there were had to drive on both sides of the track.

"The Interurban filled a need at the time when it was built," said Henry Cavness, one of the last men to die who had worked on this train. "I was the brakeman the whole time the train ran. There were several motormen, among them Ed Largette, Ben Guol, Art Mayhall, and Jake Kohley. Bob Fowler and a man named Ketter were the comductors. We used just a three man crew to run the train. We hauled mail between the two towns and always met the trains that ran on the Frisco main line. The tourist going out to stay a month at Park Springs sure would have a lot of baggage. Sometimes we would fill the little baggage compartment."

The first run left Bentonville at 615 in the morning and the last run got back to Bentonville at 1130 in the evening. They stopped at Cherry and Walnut Streets in Rogers, then at Apple Spur, Arlan Spur, Massey Hotel and Park Springs Hotel.

In the evening there was always a good crowd riding. They could go to the picture show or visit in town. In the summer whenever there was a ball game, fair, or carnival in either of the towns, the coach would be full every trip.

The rate was raised to 40 cents for a round trip, one way 21 cents; 5 cents from the Massey to Park Springs. They had a ticket office in the Massey Hotel; this was also the business office. Most people just paid when they got on. This train stopped almost anywhere along the line to pick up or let off passengers.

"The only time we ever had any trouble was when we had a full load," said motorman Jake Kohley. "I remember one night in the summer of 1915, it was the last run and there had been a carnival in Rogers, and we had a load of about 150 people. Someone had opened the switch at the edge of Bentonville; when we hit that it knocked the wheels off the car. We were very lucky no one was hurt. But a lot of them had to walk home...The auto took the place of the trolley but it seemed to me a lot of fun of the trip went out when the trolley did."

The motor car made its last trip June 11, 1916, when the Frisco railroad ordered it off their tracks for non-payment of lease dues.

At about this time Mr. Southerland lost or had to sell most of his holdings here. Soon the track was taken up, the coach sold and the line was no more. But old-timers still talk about the trips to Bentonville or Rogers, or a trip to Park Springs for a picnic that was made on the Interurban. (that was in the 1970's that Black did his research.)

The only one who ever talked of the bad parts of the line was a man who drove a team to a freight wagon. He said,"The ties stuck out so far that if you were not careful a wheel would hit one and could throw you right off the wagon. But it had its place, just as the horse once did, but they are both gone now."

I have done a lot of searching but I have yet to have found any old tickets, baggage claims, photos of the storage shed, or especially any sign of where the unique train went once it left Bentonville and was sold.

Robert Winn, railroad expert, has the most accurate description of the engine in his book Railroads of Northwest Arkansas. He called it a "knife-nosed McKeen car with distinctive round porthole type windows. " I have searched all of the records at my disposal but have come up short on whatever happened to it.

The internet has some beautiful pictures of this same type of engine, especially the one restored for the Nevada State Railroad museum in Reno.

Don't you know that this beauty would have caused a stir travelling down Bentonville streets?

Here is the interior view:


You can follow this link on Youtube to see Reno's old engine in action after restoration:




The north end of Bentonville was a popular recreation spot during those years. The big Park Springs Hotel had a pool, cabins, and several springs that were thought to have had healing powers. There was a large baseball park somewhere around the area of what is now NW A and 10th probably lying to the east. It was known as the Blackjack ball park. The area around Park Springs was not even annexed into the city limits until the 1930's.

Maybe someday soon the trains will run again, carrying passengers from Fayetteville to Bentonville and back, in hopes of alleviating some of our traffic woes. We shall soon see.