UA Little Rock digitizes historic railroad maps

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Center for Arkansas History and Culture has completed the digitization of more than 100 historic railroad maps that are now available online.

The maps, created in 1917 and 1918, document the St. Louis, Iron Mountain, and Southern Railroad (SLIMS) and the Missouri Pacific Railroad (MoPac) in Arkansas. They trace the railroad from MoArk, Arkansas, to Texarkana, Arkansas.

The maps not only depict train tracks mile by mile but also note land, bridges, and buildings owned by the railroad companies. Researchers can find existing and long-gone structures, including the Malvern Roundhouse, the North Little Rock Iron Mountain Shops, the Little Rock Oil and Compress plant, and the Newport Van Noy Hotel.

“These large, unique maps include details that give us insight into Arkansas’s economic and cultural networks,” said Deborah J. Baldwin, associate provost of UA Little Rock’s Collections and Archives. “This level of detail provides a rich portrait of where and how Arkansas towns developed in the early 20th century.”

The Center for Arkansas History and Culture received the maps as a gift from Union Pacific in 2017. Union Pacific had inherited the drawings from its predecessor, the Missouri Pacific Railroad. The Cairo and Fulton Railroad Company built the original mapped railroad lines in 1871. In 1917, the Cairo and Fulton Railroad Company merged with the Missouri Pacific Railroad and the St. Louis, Iron Mountain, and Southern Railroad.

The maps were originally created for the federal government’s Interstate Commerce Commission as a means to determine the value of each railroad company. This value statement was used to determine what companies could charge for passenger and freight rates.

The fragile maps were brittle from age, and their sheer size – 4.5 feet by 2 feet – made them easy to tear, so the Center for Arkansas History and Culture made immediate plans to digitize them.

With funding from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the Department of Arkansas Heritage, the CAHC sent the drawings to a vendor equipped with large-format scanners.

The digitization project, now complete, gives researchers online access to the maps anytime. Researchers can even zoom-in to view fine details that are not easily seen on the physical maps.

The original maps will remain at the Center for Arkansas History and Culture.

Photo above right: This North Little Rock map is one of several historic railroad maps available online through University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Center for Arkansas History and Culture.

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