The Bentonville Interurban

By Larry Horton

The Bentonville Interurban was a fascinating part of Bentonville history and a unique slice of time gone by.

As you may know, Bentonville was missed by the Frisco line that ran from Missouri to Fayetteville and southward in 1881, but leading citizens paid to have a branch line run to Bentonville in 1882 to supply its residents with passenger access and those in the apple industry a means to transport goods outside of our area. Talks had been underway for a rail access directly to Bentonville as early as the 1850’s but the Civil War halted all activity until after the war.

By the early 1900’s the railroad line was doing a booming business, and small community interurban passenger trains were all the rage. Several cities in Arkansas operated these types of trains or their close kin, overhead electric trolley systems. Discussions had occurred as early as 1909 concerning the operation of an interurban, and originally plans were to run the line from Joplin to Bentonville. Along the way, other towns were willing to pay to take part in the service. Eventually even Gentry, Siloam Springs and Tontitown expressed interest in running the line to their towns too, but in the end the interurban was a Rogers to Bentonville service only.

Funding was secured, surveys were made, and the extension of the main line was completed for a grand opening on July 1, 1914. The interurban line left the Bentonville Branch line of the Frisco at SW A Street, running straight up the middle of the street north to a stop at the Massey Hotel. The line ended at the Park Springs Hotel, where there was a storage barn for the trolley. This allowed tourists to come straight to the hotel of their choosing. Also large crowds were brought in for city picnics and ballgames, as the Park Springs Park and the adjacent Blackjack ball park were conveniently at the end of the line.

Here is the description given by J. Dickson Black in his book History of Benton County:

On July 1, 1914, several hundred Bentonville citizens and a band went to Rogers on the first trips of the new motor car, an 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 was not always reliable and missed a good many trips. But this was a lot better than having 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 and had gold lettering. The engine was built in one end of the long coach, and next to this was a small baggage rood. The coach was 72 feet long inside. The passenger part seated about 130 (if some some passengers were standing in the aisle) Sometimes there would be standing room only.
— J. Dickson Black

All went relatively well, barring the occasional derailment or breakdown, until June 1916, when the Frisco raised the rent for use of their line between Bentonville and Rogers, and the interurban was discontinued. An attempt was made in 1917 to revitalize the line but it failed.

After the line was discontinued, the tracks were taken up on A Street but not without problems. The city eventually had to pay some of the land owners along the tracks for damages caused by them.

But it was a great idea, wasn’t it?