Conway Station: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

When the Faulkner County Historical Society recently enlarged a picture of Conway Station to use as a backdrop for its new photo booth, it drew all sorts of reactions. Many expressed regret that the depot was torn down back in 1974. Others had no idea Conway ever had a depot. But Conway began as a railroad town as many other towns did during that era.

One square mile surrounding Conway station was deeded to Chief Engineer Asa P. Robinson by the Little Rock & Ft. Smith Railroad on July 6, 1871. Robinson had been attracted to this area because much of it was open prairie, with groups of trees interspersed through the area. The books of the railroad recorded a payment of $2,994 for the land, but this may have been merely a bookkeeping formality.

Local folklore suggests that the land may have actually been given to Robinson as a reward or bonus for his service with the railroad. In any event, Robinson had been subdividing the land into lots and even planting cotton on parts of it for over a year prior to the time that the land was actually deeded to him.

Various sources suggest that the community was named for the Conway family which produced two Arkansas governors, or for the Little Rock & Ft. Smith locomotive Conway. In fact, however, the community may have simply been named for the county in which it was then located — Conway County.

The passenger and freight depot, a 20 x 95-foot wooden structure was built in 1869-1870. It was expanded slightly in 1871. It was remodeled again in 1886 and a cotton platform and tool house were added. Stock yards were built in 1896. A sand house was built in 1900 and yet another remodel in 1903.

When the train, which provided both passenger and freight service, first began operation in 1870, the train stopped at Conway around 10:24 a.m. each day on its way westward and returned about 2:36 p.m. In 1888, twice daily passenger train service was established.

When Robinson laid out Conway Station in 1871, he oriented the lots to follow the angle of the railroad. A square was established around the train depot. The street running alongside the rails on the west side was named Railroad Avenue. Main Street was laid out as a much wider street which would extend from Railroad Avenue to Court Street where Robinson had designated that the courthouse would stand. He made Main Street wider because he planned on it being the main street for commercial activity.

He also had plans for a church and a school to be located on this courthouse square between Oak and Prairie Streets. Later, when Conway was named the county seat for the newly created Faulkner County, Robinson donated a lot west of Locust Street for the construction of the Faulkner County Court House.

Robinson did not plan on having a street on the east side of the railroad tracks but as the town developed, many travelers began to park their wagons in an alley there. Enterprising businessmen like Max Frauenthal took advantage of this and built a store in the alley. That is how Front Street was established. It became a main street for commercial activity along with Oak Street.

As the downtown area expanded, more streets were added to the business district. These streets however were laid out in more of a north/south or east/west orientation instead of along the railroad.

By 1911, the area around the deteriorating depot was often congested during certain periods of the year because of the stockyards and cotton platforms located there. Mayor W.H. Duncan asked the railroad to clean up the area and move the cattle loading area away from downtown. In 1913, the old wooden depot was rolled across the tracks to the west side so a new depot could be built.

The new 25 x 180-feet building had dark red brick exterior walls, a red tile roof and brown window and door trim. A Wells-Fargo Express office and baggage facilities at the south end were separated from the two waiting rooms at the north end by a covered breezeway. A telegraph and ticket office with trackside bay window was located between the two waiting rooms. A brick passenger loading platform extended along the track for the full length of the block.

The new depot opened in April 1914. The old wooden depot was then remodeled and used exclusively for freight services and warehouse space. The Conway School and Civic Club organized an opening celebration with music provided by the Hendrix College brass band and the choirs of Central College and State Normal.

Note:The information for this article was found in Faulkner County: Its Land and People (1986)

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