Historic Structures

Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Depot, Flora Illinois

Date added: September 1, 2022 Categories: Illinois Train Station

Flora was surveyed and platted in 1854, the year the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad came through the area. The railroad company wanted to locate the depot at Mooresville, one mile west of the present location of Flora. The Moore brothers refused to donate or sell land for a station house. Mooresville was a town with a store or two, blacksmith shop, a number of dwellings and other buildings. The action of the Moore brothers killed their town when Samuel White offered his land a mile to the east, and Flora was platted. Many of the stores and houses from Mooresville were afterwards moved to Flora. Samuel White donated the land for the depot.

The name of Flora was given to the town in honor of a railroad surveyor's daughter. Flora was incorporated under the general law in 1857. The railroad had become a reality on February 14, 1848, when the first act of incorporation was passed by the State of Indiana. This act incorporated the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad Company and authorized construction of a railroad between Lawrenceburg, Indiana on the Ohio River and Vincennes, Indiana on the Wabash River, extending east to Cincinnati, Ohio and west through Illinois to St. Louis, Missouri. This grant, made by the State of Indiana, was recognized by Ohio on March 15, 1849, in an act authorizing the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad to build in Ohio. On February 12, 1851, Illinois joined the other two states by passing an act incorporating the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad with power to construct a railroad connecting at Illinoistown (East St. Louis, Illinois) on the Mississippi River and then east to the Illinois-Indiana state line in the direction of Vincennes, Indiana.

These three acts, along with several amendments, were the instruments in the location of the railroad from Cincinnati to East St. Louis (Illinoistown) which passed through Flora, Illinois. The first report of preliminary surveys and estimates of the Western Division was made by Chief Engineer Eramus Cost on September 1, 1851, and was addressed to the President and Directors of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad, chartered by the state of Illinois. The first breaking of ground took place at East St. Louis, the western terminus, on February 17, 1852. The line was completed and opened to traffic on May 1, 1857. As a tribute to this newest artery of transportation binding the east with the west, a special excursion trip over the line was arranged. The entire line between Cincinnati and St. Louis was 341 miles long. It passed across the southern parts of Indiana and Illinois through the small settlement of Harter Township soon to become known as Flora, Illinois.

The gauge of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad tracks originally was 6 foot. On July 13, 1871, trains were stopped for eight hours, and the entire line of 341 miles, Cincinnati to St. Louis, was changed to standard gauge at that time. Each section of three miles had three gangs of workmen moving the rails and changing its location at the same time, a record in building track.

On November 1, 1893, the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad and its interests including the Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad, formally merged with its parent company, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The name of the consolidated line became known as the Baltimore and Ohio Southwestern Railroad and for a number of years it was operated by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad as a separate company.

On February 16, 1857, the Illinois General Assembly granted a charter to the Springfield and Pana Railroad, but no line was ever built under that charter because of hard times beginning in 1857 and followed closely by the Civil War. In February 1857 another charter was granted to cover a line between Springfield, Illinois, and Pana, Illinois, but extending further under the name of the Pana, Springfield, and Northwestern Railroad. Forty miles of this road were completed and opened for business in March 1870. During the summer of 1870 it was put under contract to Beardstown, Illinois, with the intention of extending it to Keokuk, Iowa. This extension however, was never undertaken.

By an act of the General Assembly, approved March 5, 1867, a charter was granted to the Illinois and Southeastern Railroad Company. This company gained possession of the Pana, Springfield, and Northwestern Railroad giving it a line from the Ohio River at Shawneetown, Illinois, to the Illinois River at Beardstown, Illinois.

Realizing the need for this railroad and the benefits it would bring to the community as a result of its construction, the citizens of Flora, on November 10, 1868, by a vote of 300 to 42 donated to the Illinois and Southeastern Railroad the sum of $20,000. Not having the money, an election was held May 20, 1869 to decide whether bonds should be issued or a special tax levied. The vote stood 79 for issuing bonds and none against. On March 28, 1872, through trains began operation between Shawneetown, Illinois, and Beardstown, Illinois. Later in the same year the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad took over the Illinois and Southeastern Railroad and the division offices were moved from Pana to Flora. Now freight and passenger service in all four directions was complete.

Moving the division offices to Flora created the need for a railroad agent. George Harter was appointed the first station agent for the city of Flora. This was quite an arduous and responsible position because no one could tell just where the engine would stop. It was a choice left up to the engineer, since there was no station at that time. Freight to be unloaded at Flora was scattered all over the prairie at spots where the engineer decided to stop the train. It then became the job of the station agent to collect all the unloaded freight.

Mr. J. F. Adduddel, who later became station agent, grew tired of the situation and conceived the idea of a depot, one that would have sufficient room for the storage of freight. The idea became a reality through the liberality of local citizens who built the proposed depot by subscription. The depot was later taken over by the railroad. The first depot was frame and was demolished when the present brick depot was erected in 1916-1917. The contractor and builder for the new depot was Frank Nichols, a Flora citizen. The Flora News Record of August 6, 1917 stated, "office rooms in the new Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Depot were ready for occupancy." On the main floor were the large waiting room, the telegraph and Western Union offices, and the yard office, baggage room, rest rooms, and ticket offices. The adjoining Railway Express Agency Building was utilized for large rail cargo.

In 1860, just six years after the railroad decided to place a depot at Flora, the population had reached one hundred occupants. Farmers, merchants, doctors, lawyers, school teachers, and even a retired ship captain called Flora home. In the next thirty years, between 1860 to 1890, Flora grew as the railroad did with the city's population exploding to over 3,000 people, most of whom were associated with the railroad in some way. As Flora's population grew, industry that depended on the railroad system began to locate their facilities in the town, and drew additional residents that caused growth in housing and local commerce.

Hotels, adjacent to the depot served the town's population, visitors, and railroad employees. The three-story Major House, rebuilt in 1878 following a fire was located to the northeast of the depot on West North Avenue. The Major House later became known as the Starr Hotel. Across West North Avenue, the Midland Trail Hotel, built in 1916, contained over forty rooms and an automobile garage.

Flora's growth span from 1900-1920 is called the Industrial Boom period. Garment, furniture, and shoe factories, moved into Flora along with many new families when the Baltimore and Ohio Division offices moved into town in 1906. A Flora newspaper from 1916 stated that without the B&O Railroad, "Flora would be a dead one." At the time the depot was being completed the city was experiencing an economic boom due in part to the railroad. New hotels were being erected in the vicinity of the depot, new homes were being constructed throughout the city to meet the demand of the influx of new residents coming to the city to work for the railroad. New industry came to the city such as Sexton Garment Manufacturing in 1916, the International Shoe Company in 1922, and Kuhne Furniture Manufacturing in 1923. Orchard development surrounding the city also proved to be another economic support for the railroad, as their produce was shipped by the railroad. Food production companies such as Flora Pure Milk in 1912, Flora Cheese in 1919, Ebner Cold Ice and Storage in 1903, and Brown Poultry Company in 1929 erected plants in Flora. These factories depended on the railroad to get their products to market, and with these companies came more economic gains for the bustling little city of Flora. The population had climbed to well over 5,000 by 1920. In 1937, oil was discovered in Clay County and the railroad played a vital role in transporting petroleum products and supplying materials for new oil wells. This was also a time of other civic improvements as new residences were constructed throughout the city, a new bank in 1918, a new First Methodist Church in 1914, new brick streets, and more greeted new residents to Flora. For many of these people the railroad was the only connection to the outside world. U.S. Route 50 cut through downtown Flora, and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad line basically followed its path to St. Louis. However, the road was not as dependable and expedient as the railroad.

From 1910 through the mid 1920's the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad employed about half the wage earners in Flora. In 1924 the industry had about 300 employees, with an average annual payroll of $624,000. In 1923 the railroad paid $64,000 to the county in taxes.

From the mid 1920's to 1937 many railroad families moved from Flora to Washington, Indiana, where the Baltimore and Ohio Division office had been moved. The depot was along the route as President Truman and Winston Churchill moved through town enroute to Fulton, Missouri, where Churchill was to deliver the "Iron Curtain" speech at Westminster College on March 5, 1946. Hundreds of quiet citizens lined the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad tracks on April 1, 1969 to pay last respects to former President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In 1973, the last passenger train quickly passed through Flora signaling the end of service to a once bustling place.

The railroad was a huge part of the social life in Flora as residents would board passenger trains for other points. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad employees were highly respected in Flora too as they had their own band, baseball teams, and were leaders in patriotic morale and community betterment. The amount of trains to pass through Flora continued to grow during the 1910s through the 1930s as did the industrial base of Flora and the surrounding area. During World War II goods were transported by rail to support the troops, and German POW trains were a common site in Flora as they would stop for refueling before heading somewhere west.

Once the hub of activity, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Depot in Flora stands quiet. Few, if any, Flora residents can recall the time when twelve passenger trains passed through the community each day. However, there are still residents who remember when several passenger trains were still running, and a station agent was kept busy selling tickets and minding the telegraphy equipment. Travelers waiting for a train no longer mill about in the waiting room. They don't mingle with loafers nor engage in that old favorite small town pastime, going down to the depot to watch the trains come in. Today, Flora's population still holds at slightly above 5,000, and its major employment source is still related to transportation. This time Flora's mainstay is the automobile industry with several facilities supporting Flora's economy. It is perhaps ironic that Flora has turned its economic dependency to the automobile, one of the very factors that contributed to the decline of the city's railroad heritage.