Malvern Daily Record

Malvern: “A Busy Little Arkansas Town”

- Dr. Wendy Richter Dr. Wendy Richter retired as State Historian and Director of the Arkansas State Archives. She and her husband live in the Midway community.

In the nineteenth century, many Americans and Europeans were fascinated by places west of the Mississipp­i River, and that interest made travel books quite popular. In fact, some of the earliest descriptio­ns of Arkansas came from visitors and travelers. Potential emigrants looked to literature for clues about where to seek their economic future, so these early accounts also helped shape Arkansas’s developmen­t.

Railroad companies seized on the opportunit­y to attract both visitors and new residents to the areas they served. Tourism meant big business--railroads filled brochures and booklets with flattering images (see photo of Malvern station) and glowing descriptio­ns to encourage travel and settlement. One such example was a pamphlet produced in the mid-1890s by H.C. Townsend (General Passenger and Ticket Agent, Iron Mountain Route, St. Louis) that promoted Hot Springs. At the time, a visit to the spa city by rail also included a trip Malvern. This is how the small volume described part of the journey:

Malvern, the junction of the Hot Springs Railroad and the Iron Mountain Route, is a busy little Arkansas town, the county seat of Hot Spring

County and the center of a great lumber and fruit-growing country. It is twenty-two miles nowadays from Malvern to Hot Springs, and the journey occupies barely an hour. In the old days of stage coaching the distance seemed at least twice as great, and it took all day to cover it. At some seasons of the year the road was practicall­y impassable, owing to the depth of the mud and the height of the flooded mountain streams.

This was the condition which confronted three prominent railroad men one afternoon in February, 1874. They were “Diamond Jo” Reynolds, Col. L.D. Richardson, and Capt. William Fleming. Anxious to reach Hot Springs that night, and unable to find a driver at Malvern who would undertake to brave the difficulti­es of the stage road at that season, they determined to make the journey on foot. It was during this long, tiresome walk that the Hot Springs Railroad project was conceived, it being palpably certain that, if thousands of people from all parts of the world were willing to suffer so much inconvenie­nce to reach the “Valley of Vapors,” a railroad would prove not only a blessing, but a developer and almost certainly a dividend earner.

Ground was soon broken, and the same year saw the opening of a narrow-gauge railroad from Malvern to Lawrence Station, seven miles east of Hot Springs. The line was soon extended through to its present terminus. It was changed from narrow to standard gauge, and in January, 1890, for the first time, a through Pullman sleeping car service was establishe­d between St. Louis and Hot Springs. This service, with such additions and improvemen­ts as experience and increasing patronage have suggested, has continued to the present time. Col. L.D. Richardson, one of the original projectors, some years ago assumed the management of the property, which he has placed in first-class physical condition throughout. Branch railroads, as a general rule, are but sorry affairs, but this little line is a pleasing exception. To the traveler, indeed, there is nothing about the track, equipment, or time to indicate that he is not on a main line of some great system.

The trip from Malvern to Hot Springs is by no means devoid of scenic interest. At one point a charming glimpse of the Ouachita River may be had from the car windows, a shimmering stretch of a noble stream sweeping majestical­ly in a half-circle around the base of a lofty, pine-clad cliff. A little further on, a country road meanders in and out of the pines, and perhaps a yoke of oxen dragging a crude and heavily-laden cart comes in view and adds a bit of rural life to the picture. Cove Creek, with its old saw mill, reminding one of the quiet brook and ruined mill of Sleepy Hollow, is then crossed, and the train comes to a momentary stop at Lawrence Station.

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