The St. Francois County
ELECTRIC RAILROAD WAS
A LINK TO COUNTY PROGRESS
Journal, Flat River, Mo., Monday, March 19, 1979
article in the 1909 Detailed Financial Report
of St. Francois County
should be forgiven if it took too much for granted. But it
to underscore the importance of railroad transportation in the first
decades of the 20th century. “In addition to these (the
had mentioned other railroad lines) we have the St. Francois County
Electric Railway, connecting the county seat and the lead belt with the
St. L.I..& S. at Delassus, the M.R. & B.T. at Flat
the I.S. at Esther,” the article said.
“The probabilities are that when the
Number’ of this pamphlet will be issued, and the history in
respect recorded, it will tell of trolley lines from St. Louis through
the lead belt of St. Francois County and on to the county seat,
connecting here with points south and southwest of us.” The
vision of the pamphlet’s author Joseph A. Lawrence, never
materialized. Today Farmington has no railroad connections at all.
But for over five decades, the city had its own commuter and freight
system. Trolleys at one time hauled passengers to Flat River to work in
the mines, returning them in the evening. Links were achieved
with the other railroads, providing shipment routes to points in all
directions for the town. But the dream of Lawrence and the founders of
the line in Farmington disappeared as other surface transportation
achieved dominance in the area. Today, only along North
are rails of the line still found protruding through the
pavement. Over the remainder of its former run, strips of
blacktop between concrete lanes or the telltale cracking of asphalt
streets provide a remainder of the bygone days.
From March 1901, when a group of civic leaders proposed the
November 1957, when the last train pulled through town, the trolley and
later, diesels, were a familiar sight. Its longest route covered the
distance from Delassus to Flat River. The railroad
spurs to take cars to the notable businesses in the town. Just for a
second in this historic look backward, a trip on the railroad is
required. It will provide a glimpse of the road as it was.
The three railroads mentioned by initials in the Detailed
Report were the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern, the Mississippi
River and Bonne Terre and the Illinois Southern. Today, the
Louis and Iron Mountain, better known as the Belmont branch of the
Missouri Pacific, is out of service. The Illinois Southern is
Missouri-Illinois Railroad, which indirectly serves Farmington with a
freight siding at Ogborn Junction north of town. The Bonne
route is now owned by Missouri Pacific. Most of the M.R.
B.T. road was torn out, but parts of it are used in Mo Pac connections
The county railroad line started at Delassus where a siding
for connection with the Belmont. It intersected Columbia
at the area around the Clardy Farm and State Highway Department
shed. From there, it moved up Columbia Street to swing around
county courthouse. Its Farmington depot is now the site of
IGA on North Washington Street. The line turned on Spring
running west to A Street before turning north. Money troubles plagued
the line from the very start. The county electric railroad
link to county progress. From A Street the tracks turned west onto
North Street and then headed north again on Potosi Street. The line
left town along Potosi Street, heading past its powerhouse, which was
located near where the intersection of Electric Place and Potosi would
be, if Potosi was extended. The journey went to Hurryville,
following the Hurryville Road where several bridges still stand,
railless but looking fully capable of holding the weight. Once the
right of way reached Hurryville, it originally turned west to parallel
the present Missouri-Illinois tracks. In Esther it linked
mine spurs and later, to the Missouri-Illinois tracks. The last leg of
the longest run would take the train, first in 1906, to the Illinois
Southern depot and later, via a spur that crossed Flat River Creek and
through and behind the city’s central business district to
M.R.& B.T. railroad station that now serves at the Flat River
Police Department building.
The reason an electric railway became necessary for the city
because of voter frugality. By 1856, the St. Louis and Iron
Mountain had a link to Pilot Knob, allowing a stage coach connection to
Farmington. But voters of the city in 1869 turned down a bond
issue that would have brought the Belmont branch through
Instead, it moved on the outskirts of Delassus and south of the city.
That line is the right of way that crosses Route W just outside
Delassus and Highway 67 south of the city sewage treatment facility.
Attempts continued, unsuccessfully, to get a rail connection
town. One railroad went broke trying to get to
a narrow gauge line was turned down; and a new attempt was being made
to approve a rail connection when the citizens took matters into their
own hands. “The Brief Authentic History of St. Francois
County,” a work put together during the Depression by J. Tom
Miles, reported, “The St.Francois County Electric Railway
was formed in March 1901, by Peter Giessing, H. Sleeth, J.P. Cayce,
W.R. Lang, M.L. Clardy, John Giessing, Thos. Lang, Louis Miller, W.F.
Doss, A.T. Nixon, J.M. Morris, Dr. E.C. McCormick and others.
the first annual meeting of the board Peter Giessing was made president
and J.W. Buck, secretary, and actual work was begun in 1902.
“The power house was erected, machinery installed,
and the road
completed from Delassus to the power house, a distance of four and
twenty-six hundredths miles when the money gave out because the company
was unable to sell al of the bonds.” Financial problems would
continue to plague the company. But despite changes in
the first official run of the train was made on July 24, 1904. At 10:11
a.m. that day, the first electric car rumbled down the
street. Thomas Lang Sr. turned the
controller which started the journey from the train sheds in Delassus
to the powerplant. The car was in charge of
Rickard and conductor Guy Tullock. “In six minutes the city
limits had been reached,” history book said, “and
stop was at the Presbyterian Church. At the post
(then in the building now occupied by Mercantile Bank) there was a stop
of several minutes for a photography contest. John Doughty
the prize of 10 tickets for the best amateur photograph of the first
car. “The run continued to the power house and an inspection
made. At 11 o’clock a return to the depot was made in time
all to attend church who wished to go.”
The work of the railroad, both as a passenger and freight
expanded with the needs of Farmington’s businesses.
the stockholders and managers of the company had interests because of
their businesses. The company built a siding to the Farmington State
Hospital, which would supply the company most of its operating funds
through the hauling of coal to the powerplant there. A spur was added
to bring the line down East College Street to Middle Street, where it
moved sought to Harrison Street. There it served the Schramm
and Creamery Co., and its coal bins, the Farmington Milling Co. (the
old mill next to the swimming pool that was razed in 1978) and Lang and
Brothers wagon works. Also, its turn through College Street west gave
access to the Giessing Milling Co. (also razed in 1978).
town, on the north end, it passed the DeForrest Oil Co.
As mentioned, the railway’s early financial status
good. It switched hands and went in and out of
until 1912, when it was purchased by the M.R.& B.T.
time, the cost of the complete railroad was valued at $366,170. The
line returned to local ownership in 1926, when 20 businessmen put up
working capital of $20,000. Listed stockholders were M.P.
president; C.H. Giessing, vice president and business manager; G.B.
Snider, F.W. Schramm, D.F. Giessing, C.E. Rozier, W.R. Lang, P.A. Shaw
estate, L.H. Williams, W.C. Fisher, Morris Brothers, George Tetley,
C.A. Tetley estate, O.J. Mayberry, B.T. Gentges, C.Y. White, E.J.
Lawrence, Henry Giessing and Klein Grocer Co.
group also improved the railroad and shortened its
route from Hurryville to Esther was abandoned, and a link with the
Illinois Southern was achieved in Hurryville. The first
gasoline-powered engine, a used locomotive, was added to the line. The
company, at its peak, had four electric cars, capable to taking
passengers from the Farmington depot to Flat River in 30
The direct-current cars were linked to overhead wires, and
motorman’s tillers were moved from one end of the car to the
other to reserve direction of travel. The line aided its power
situation by purchasing a rotary converter to enable it to turn
alternating current into DC power. During the time it hauled freight,
one of the functions included hauling water to the county infirmary,
where the Mineral Area Osteopathic Hospital is today.
A timetable of the St. Francois County Railroad
effective Dec. 17,
1922, and furnished to the Daily Journal by Mrs. Rusty Johnson, lists
the times and stops for the streetcars. Stops listed are Flat
River’s M.R. & B.T. station, Esther, Columbia
Gossom, Koen McDaniel, Hurryville, Woodland, Knauss, Ash Landing, Hunt
Whitener, Power House, Potosi Road, Farmington Depot, Farmington Post
Office (the courthouse square; the post office was located on the
southeast corner at that time); State Hospital; Clardy and Delassus.
A car would leave the powerhouse at 5:25 a.m. and reach the
square at 5:32 a.m. From there, passengers headed for the
Belt would rumble along to Flat River, where the train would reach the
M.R. & B.T. station at 6:00 a.m. The return trip got
from Flat River to the state hospital by 6:52 a.m. The last car would
leave Flat River at 6:20 p.m., reaching the courthouse square at 7:04
p.m. The last car trekked by to the powerhouse at 7:19 p.m.
railroad reached its heyday in the late 1920’s.
showed the line was hauling up to 75,000 tons of freight annually. The
Depression slowed business, but the line kept up with freight and
Among the pleasurable benefits of the line was a connection
residents to Woodland Park, a favorite picnicking area near the present
Corral Drive-In Theater. The depot was located in the area of the
present Heck’s IGA store on North Washington
original car barns at Delassus were retired and new ones were built
downtown in the 20’s. That the railroad was vital to the city
certain. A report at the time indicated, “Certain
businesses would find it almost impossible to operate under the present
setup were the electric railroad to discontinue.” But as the
other surface transportation methods grew in use, and as the use of
coal decreased the days of the privately-owned railroad were
numbered. The businesses it had served were slowly passing
and the line began to lose money in 1947. It turned a profit
one year after that, in 1951, when $147 were cleared. That
in what is listed as the last passenger revenue for the line, $1.75 was
collected for fares.
The profit in 1951 was aided by the city’s building
of the east
side sewage plant. Farmington purchased 80 cars of limestone
were hauled over city tracks that year. So by 1957, the board of
directors had decided it was time to end Farmington’s
railroad. In its July 7, 1957 edition, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
the end of the community railroad. “Nine-mile St.
Rail Line Wants to Quit to End Its Losses,” the page 3
read. Pictured with the story was “One of St. Francois County
Railroad Co.’s second-hand switch engines. . . in front of
county courthouse. Engineer Paul Rickus is at controls and fireman
Emmett Welch is on catwalk.” Also shown as the railroad
company’s last president, Dr. L.M. Stanfield.
owned 69 of the 250 outstanding shares of the line, which ran in front
of his home on North Street. As he watched one of the locomotives move
past the courthouse, forcing traffic onto the wrong side of the street,
Stanfield said, “You know, this railroad actually is a
“We haven’t made any money to speak of
Our equipment is run down, we need new rails and there’s no
prospect of getting any more business.” Welch, a 45-year
of service to the railroad, spoke of the six-day-a-week runs the
“We don’t go to Hurryville every day.
just a place where this railroad connects with the Missouri-Illinois
Railroad. About 50 people live there now and the M-I doesn't
always have freight for us to haul.”
The passenger service had been phased out, and only
diesels were in operation at the time J.O. Swink, vice president and
general manager of the company, told a local newspaper in October 1957,
“While permission to relinquish its franchise was obtained
the Interstate Commerce Commission on Aug. 26 (1957) permission from
the Missouri Public Service Commission was not received until Oct.
11.” Swink, incidentally, was involved in another job with
railroad, as an engineer.
One day in former Gov. Forrest Smith’s
administration, Swink was
running the train because Rickus had gone duck hunting. “The
governor’s office was trying to get me everywhere,”
related in the Post article. “They telephoned my
railroad office and my law office, but I was out running the
engine. They wanted to tell me I had just been appointed a
circuit judge.” And while the railroad terminated service in
1957, its lawyer-turned-engineer remained on the circuit bench until
When the news of the closing finally came, revelers at the
Homecoming in July 1957 realized that they had indeed ridden on the
‘Last Train to Delassus.’ An attraction
festival that year was a ride in a flat-bed car pulled by a diesel,
from Long Park to Delassus. The fare was 50 cents.
marked the final time passengers viewed the city from the rails. Nov.
15, 1957 brought the last run. The engine made its final turn by the
courthouse that day. The last freight handled by the company was a
shipment of grain for the Farmington Milling Co. The last
hauled over the route was a car of cement for C.E. Trogdon Construction
But the spring of 1958 the rails disappeared from the
single rail remains on a bridge beside West Columbia Street, near the
siding that connected the line to the state hospital. The
Street section was spared because that street had recently been
blacktopped. The rails, switches and engines were sold. The
building and a new train shed were also disposed of. That train shed,
incidentally is the building housing the present Heck’s IGA
store. The railroad was headed by Dr. Stanfield when it went out of
operation. Swink and M.P. Giessing, secretary, were officers. Members
of the board of directors were C.H. Giessing, B.T. Gentges, Arlie
McClard, all of Farmington, and Dr. W.A. Rohlfing, Flat River. At the
close of office work, Roy Wilkerson and Raymond R.
Johnson were on the staff. The last engine was operated by
conductor, and Rickus, engineer. Marvin Welch was section
and Willard Hammond was on the section crew.
So Joseph a. Lawrence’s great dream of a trolley
materialized. The St. Francois Electric Railway Co. faded
like many of the firms it handled freight and passengers for. Now, only
memories and the rails on North Street remain.
of SFCERR Motors
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