Americans are the greatest travelers on earth, and yet comparatively few know their own country. Certain lines of travel seem to be mapped out as the correct ones, and the people, like sheep, follow the beaten path. Lines of travel are too apt to follow parallels of latitude, just as immigration from the older states has generally done. A few years ago it was hardly thought that a railroad could become great unless it followed the east and west lines of tradition, but this theory has long since been exploded. Travel is a liberal educator, and it is well that facilities are growing better and better for going speedily and comfortably from one section of the country to another, and it is well that an increasing number are taking advantage of these facilities.

One of the most instructive trips that can be taken by one who is studying the resources of different sections and who is interested in social and business conditions, is a daylight trip over the Fort Scott and Memphis line of the Frisco System from Kansas City to Birmingham, Ala. While it is true that the distance is only 735 miles, the trip is extremely interesting because of the diversity of country passed through, the historical associations and the various phases of life that are unfolded. Let us spend a short time in considering such a journey from the standpoint of a Northerner, and the Southerner can reverse the trip and experience the same satisfaction. To get full satisfaction out of the trip and see the country as it is, it is best to take a part of three days.

You will leave Kansas City about the middle of the forenoon from the Union Station, where so many trains arrive and depart daily. Soon after leaving the depot you cross the state line into Kansas and go through that state in nearly a southerly direction to and beyond Fort Scott, and then cross back into Missouri and travel in a southeasterly direction to Springfield in the heart of the Ozark mountain region, and 202 miles from Kansas City. After leaving the smoke and noise of Kansas City behind you travel for many miles through as fine an agricultural country as you would care to see. Here you will see farm buildings that would do credit to Illinois or Ohio, herds of fine stock that would cause an Iowa farmer to envy the owner. This section is largely prairie, but what nature left undone in the way of supplying trees man has done by their cultivation, and fine groves are to be seen in all directions. Shortly after passing Fort Scott, we cut across a corner of the great Kansas coal fields, and see evidences of the coal mining industry on all sides. Once again fairly started into Missouri we pass through more fine farming country, but see more trees and more indications of the great fruit industry of the Ozark region. This is a favorite section for Northwestern farmers who seek a milder climate and yet would avoid the low lands and hills further on, and hundreds of them can be found in this region. In this connection it may be said that improved farms can yet be bought in this favored locality at prices that are attractive to Northern farmers. As we approach Springfield we see conclusive evidences that we are in the "Land of the Big Red Apple," for thousand of acres of orchards can be seen from the car windows. To the person making this trip for the first time this is a revelation and is worth the trip in itself. Land is higher here, but yet not high compared with land similarly located in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. On reaching Springfield we find an up-todate city of 30,000 population, and one can hardly realize that men yet in active life made this a battle ground. As it is nearly night when the train reaches this point, it is best to remain till morning and then pursue the journey to the southeast.

After breakfast we are again on the way through a country full of natural and historical interest. From the summit of the Ozarks at Springfield to the shadows of Red mountain at Birmingham, the tourist on the Southeastern line of the Frisco for the first time is never out of sight of something to interest and attract. Whether skirting the bluffs and gorges of the Ozarks, or speeding through the cotton plantations of Mississippi and Arkansas, the traveler cannot fail to realize that this is a great country. In traveling over this line there is not the sameness and lonesomeness that is experienced on the great plains of the West.

Soon after leaving Springfield the country is more broken and shows more signs of its mountainous nature. While this region is called the Ozarks, it would be more proper to call it a plateau with rugged foothills, for the elevation never reaches much above 1,600 feet. From here the farms are smaller, and more land is found that is still covered with virgin forests. Land is much cheaper in this section, and the number of new farms being opened indicates that people are taking advantage of this condition. There are many good farms through here, but the greater part of the land is too stony and broken for the use of much farm machinery, hence less grain raising and more fruit and grass. This is the part of Missouri where the greatest development has been made in fruit culture, and for 140 miles southeast of Springfield one is scarcely out of sight of orchards, some of which are among the largest in the world.

At Cedar Gap, 41 miles from Springfield, the highest point on the Ozark mountain range, is passed, and soon we are on the down grade, or what is sometimes called the sunny side of the Ozarks. Cedar Gap gets its name from the gap or pass in the mountains which unfolds a view in either direction that once seen is not easily forgotten because of the panorama of hill and valley, and the long distance that can be seen. It is said that a summer resort is to be created here that will have few equals in this country, and that it will attract summer sojourners from long distances, even from Europe. Mansfield, the next station, contests with Cedar Gap the honor of occupying the crest of the Ozarks. This town is coming into considerable prominence as a mining town, there being some good lead and zinc mines in the vicinity, and there are many who think more valuable metals will yet be found in paying quantities in the surrounding hills. It is here that we see the first real evidences of the lumber industry of South Missouri, and of the oak and pine forests of the Ozarks, and from this point few towns are passed until the Mississippi river is reached that are not supplied with one or more saw mills.

Without going into details as to the various towns, it may be noted that Mountain Grove, 67 miles from Springfield, is a pretty and enterprising town, and the seat of the State Fruit Experiment Station. Fruit culture is the leading industry. At Willow Springs the Current river branch of the Frisco System leaves the main line. This is an important railroad and lumber town. Soon after leaving Willow Springs we pass through Pomona, which has a wide reputation for its fruit interests, and Olden, the seat of one of the largest fruit farms in the world. After passing Olden the next town is West Plains, the county seat of Howell county, and a beautiful and enterprising town of about 4,000, with numerous important interests, including a good college. Here we see the first evidence of the cotton fields that we are soon to enter. This vicinity has some excellent lead and zinc mines, and is backed by a fine farming country. After leaving West Plains we pass through Brandsville and Koshkonong, towns justly celebrated for the quantity and quality of their fruit. Grape culture is here brought to a high state of perfection, and it has here been demonstrated to a certainty that grape culture is to be one of our most profitable industries in that section. At Thayer, a division station, we are at the state line and soon are in Arkansas. It may properly be added here that thousands upon thousands of acres of these fine fruit lands have never been touched, and can be bought at very low prices, and there is room for thousands of families to secure a foothold in this most pleasant and profitable business.

Shortly after crossing the Arkansas line the town of Mammoth Spring is reached, and it is a most delightful place. The town gets its name from the big spring which bursts from the bluffs, and at the outset forming a river of respectable proportions. This spring is large enough to furnish power sufficient to run a large amount of machinery, and it is only a question of time when this town will be an important manufacturing center, especially of products made from wood and cotton. After leaving Mammoth Spring we follow a fork of Black river for many miles, and the scenery is delightful. This section is well timbered, but development is not far advanced. This is a corn and cotton country, and both crops do well when cultivated, and the leading tame grasses are especially abundant. After getting out of the Ozark hills the country is generally level and in some places low. It is heavily timbered where the timber has not already been cut. The land is unusually rich and capable of producing immense crops, and the price is low enough to be attractive to the poor for homes and the rich for investment. The homeseeker who buys a forest home here has the advantage that the timber will yield ready money, and if good management is used will pay for the land and its clearing, and support the family in the meantime. It is an excellent stock country, also, and this industry is growing rapidly, as the fine grasses, good corn and short winters all contribute to that end. In the overflow districts there is more or less malaria, but improvement and drainage are rapidly reducing this to a minimum. What has been done for Northern Ohio and Indiana by drainage will soon be done for the flat districts of Northeast Arkansas, and rapid development may be looked for from now forward. The principal town on this line in Northeast Arkansas is Black Rock, a town noted for the industry of getting pearls from fresh-water mussels, and for the manufacture of buttons from the shells. It is said that during the present season not less than $100,000 has been paid for these pearls. Hoxie is a good town at a railroad junction, lumbering being the principal industry. Jonesboro is the largest and most important of these towns, and is a place of much promise. It has good railroad facilities and a good start in various manufacturing enterprises. All through Northeast Arkansas the northern traveler will be interested in the different varieties of timber, the cotton fields, the way houses are built in the overflow districts, and by the dykes that keep the waters of the Mississippi from flooding vast areas at every overflow. About sunset we cross the Father of Waters and steam into Memphis, one of the most important cities of the South, and here we remain over night. At Memphis we enter on the third stage of this delightful journey, though one is never in a hurry to leave Memphis, for it can't be "done" in a day. There is much to see here that will interest the man of business, the lover of beautiful homes and charming drives. Besides the people are so hospitable in every way that one is loth to linger among them. Between St. Louis and New Orleans, Memphis is the most important commercial center in the South. It is growing rapidly in manufacturing enterprises, and there are those who confidently predict that by the next census it will have quite a quarter of a million population.

For a time after leaving Memphis the country is not very interesting except as to historical associations. The first town of importance is Holly Springs, with a population of 3,000. This place ships more cotton probably than any town of its size in the state. A large compress situated near the Frisco System depot reduces thousands of bales from the surrounding country, and during the season in addition to the local dealers there are buyers there from New Orleans, Fall River and other points. Holly Springs also enjoys a reputation far beyond state lines for its excellent schools and the high social tone of its people.

For many miles the road passes through a cotton country, where corn and cotton are in evidence on every hand. Much of this country offers inducements for new northern blood, as land is cheap, and northern methods would soon make it very productive. Of course, there are many fine farm, and plantations which show prosperity and progress, but this spirit is not as prevalent as it might be. There are considerable stretches where the country is as yet uncultivated, and these offer good opportunities for new blood. There are numerous good towns along the line, and the prosperity of these towns proves that there is even a more productive country back from the line of railroad than near the road. A stop of a few hours at Tupelo, Miss., would interest any northern tourist. Here could be seen the whole process of manufacturing cotton, from the plant in the field to the finished cloth, or the refined oil from the seed. At Tupelo the United States Government has located a fish hatchery. Tupelo is an interesting and growing ;own, and has a fine country to support it.

At Amory a branch of the Frisco System extends to the important lumbering town of Aberdeen. The greater portion of Mississippi is well supplied with timber, and there is considerable manufacturing of wood products.

The Frisco System enters Alabama about 100 miles west of Birmingham, and soon after crossing the line the character of the country seems to change and become more hilly. The fields are smaller and valleys narrower. There is some fine scenery to attract the tourist, and some pretty streams are crossed. The land is heavily timbered where it has not been cut oft. Soon after entering Alabama we strike the great coal fields, the richest in the world. This is the celebrated Warrior coal field, and it has an area of 7,810 square miles, and the Frisco System passes nearly through its center from east to west. It is Estimated that a production of 10,000 tons per day would require 10,275 years to exhaust the coal in this district. It is an excellent quality of coal for steam or coke. This coal basin extends to Birmingham, where it comes in contact with mountains of iron, which makes a combination that is hard to beat for manufacturing purposes. Birmingham is one of the leading manufacturing centers of the country, and is growing faster now than at any time in its history. The city is so located that the manufacture of all articles which require wood, iron or cotton can be made in competition with any place on earth. It would be interesting to the tourist to visit and inspect the immense iron and steel mills and see how these industries are conducted. The cotton factories would also interest, as would also those for wood products. The northern tourist would be surprised to see such an enterprising, modern city, and would still further realize the greatness of the country and the progress that has been made in the South during the present generation.

Frisco System | Stories Page | Contents Page

Do you have any information you'd like to share on this subject? Please email me!
The Catskill Archive website and all contents, unless otherwise specified,
are 1996-2010 Timothy J. Mallery