Abandoned Rails of Shreveport Union Station

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Brief History

Shreveport Union Station

Shreveport, Louisiana, was a crossroads for a number of railroad companies as they sought passage from the east to the west coast, and from the north to the Gulf coast. As such, the city was a bit unorthodox, as it hosted no less than four different passenger terminals, instead of just one as traditionally found in other cities of similar size served by multiple railroads. The owners of each were the St. Louis & Southwestern Railroad (Cotton Belt), which served Shreveport Central Station, built in 1910; the Illinois Central; the Texas & Pacific, whose station was built in the 1930s; and the Kansas City Southern (Shreveport Union Station). Among them, Union Station stood out with its tall "watchman's tower", the neighboring Jefferson Hotel, and its close proximity to the center of downtown Shreveport.

Also called Union Depot, Shreveport Union Station was built by the Kansas City, Shreveport & Gulf Terminal Company in 1897, making it the oldest of Shreveport's passenger stations. The Kansas City Southern was granted use of the facilities on July 24, 1909, designated a "meal station stop" prior to 1928, when KCS first offered dining car service on their passenger trains. The grand Southern Belle passenger trains began calling at the station in 1940, with the first arrival on August 23. At the pinnacle of its use after World War I, the station saw an average of 35 passenger trains per day.

As passenger service saw declines across the country due to increase air travel and personal automobiles, KCS ceased making stops on November 2, 1969, bringing to an end almost 30 years of Southern Belle service in Shreveport. Thus, Shreveport Union Station shut its doors the following day, November 3, never to see passenger service again. Oddly enough, two days later, a fire started in the basement, and consequently burned the station completely to the ground.

Today, all that's left of this magnificent passenger terminal is the concrete footprint, some stairs leading up the knoll, and some decorative tan/brown tiles at the entry way, and green/white tiles in what were most likely the restrooms. Next to the station lies the remains of the KCS Cafe, now long abandoned and forgotten as much as the station it served.

Showing of

We start our tour at the southern corner of the station, looking in a generally northwestern direction. The concrete at front extending away is platform 4 (of 4 platforms). The KCS main that served the station is situated just in front of the trees in the background. Photo by Greg Harrison, November 2005.

I remember my father, Jimmie Louis Sledge (January 16, 1938-August 21, 2004, wrote an editorial letter to the Shreveport Times & Journal when the Union Station burned. It was published in the paper in November, 1969.

William Sledge
San Diego Shreveport Native, CA
6/5/2009

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I've lived here all my life and never knew this was here. Thanks to Greg for the great pictures and story. I'll have to go check it out this weekend and spend a few moments walking there now that I know the history.

Don
Shreveport, LA
1/22/2010

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There is an interesting picture by J. Parker Lamb from August of 1964 of Illinois Central's NORTHEASTERN LIMITED departing for Meridian with KCS's SOUTHERN BELLE at Platform 1. Platform 3 plays host to some IC coaches and platform 4 has KCS head-end equipment sitting alongside. All my IC timetables claim IC did not use Central Station but Shreveport Union

Mark D. Budka
Lincoln, NE
1/7/2012

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I worked briefly in the summer of 1966 in Shreveport for the Missouri Pacific railroad. I would very much like to see pictures of the old Union Station and hear from anyone who had personal knowledge of it or who worked for any of the railroads in Shreveport, especially MoPac. Please get a hold of me at my email address of muskiejim17@hotmail.com

Jim Yonker
St. Louis, MO
6/17/2012

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For a brief period I was a fireman on the KCS passenger train that departed Union Station at approximately 10:00 PM. From Union Station we backed out to the main line and headed east over the Red River and on to Minden, La. From Minden we headed South to Winfield and on to Alexandria where we changed crews. From there to Baton Rouge to New Orleans. I usually deadheaded on to New Orleans and returned the next day to Alexandria and back to Shreveport. One of the engineers was a Mr. Dobson. I currently am in the process recreating the route of the Southern Belle from Union Station to Minden. I also am attempting to model the station the KCS Cafe where we are prior to departing at 10:00 PM. Any pictures and other information any of you might share with me would be appreciated.

Don Waters
Ft Worth, TX
2/23/2014

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I took the Southern Belle using that 10 PM route when I was about 4 years old (1959). It was quite an adventure. Remember waking up in the middle of the night in a train station- porobably Alexandria. When I was a little older took the train from Union Station to Coushatta by myself to be met by my grandparents & greatgrandparents. Coushatta Station is still there.

Robert Hendrick
Monroe, LA
3/12/2014

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This was actually FOX'S KCS RESTAURANT. My grandfather, George Ablon, bought it in 1943 and sold it to my father, Sam Fox, in 1945. My grandfather put ABLON'S RESTAURANT in the tiles in the entrance when he bought it and after he sold it to my father, it remained there in the entrance....my dad never changed it. My mother, Esther Ablon Fox, was my grandfather's daughter (who married my dad) and my dad operated the restaurand untill 1964 when he sold it. The building has been vacant there at 820 Louisiana Avenue since about 1968 (45 years)...I worked at my dad's restaurant from 1945 until July 1949 and I have many many happy memories working there with my dad. He was a great dad !!!!!

as was my Grandfather !!!!!..........................Jack Fox

Jack Fox
Shreveport, LA
4/1/2014

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How very interesting that historical perspective is. I ate there many times both as a fireman and with my dad who was an engineer. It is ashamed that it was not better preserved along with some of the other properties along the station area. I assumed that the property was owned by the KCS. I am in the process of modeling the restaurant as part of my KCS layout. If you happen to have any photographs of the restaurant in the middle 6o's they would be appreciated as I would like to construct it as close as possible to the real thing. Thanks Jack for your very interesting comments. By the way, I am originally from Minden but have been in Ft. Worth for many years.

Don

Don Waters
Ft. Worth, TX
4/2/2014

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When the Common Street viaduct was built over the tracks just southwest of Union Station in Shreveport, passenger drop-off and pick-up lanes were built directly above Snow Street on both sides of the viaduct. These allowed cars to pull over to the side of the viaduct to drop-off or pick-up train passengers without blocking the flow of traffic. Steps provided access between each of these lanes and a covered walkway on the ground below that went directly to Union Station. Taxis were not allowed to stop on the Common Street viaduct; they were required to drop-off and pick-up train passengers on the drive in front of the station along Louisiana Avenue. There was also a trolley stop with two wooden benches on each side of Louisiana Avenue directly in front of Union Station.

For many years my grandfather was an engineer on the KCS Flying Crow passenger train that ran between Shreveport and Port Arthur, TX. He sometimes rode a trolley to and from Union Station, but that required ridding into downtown Shreveport and then transfer to another trolley in front of the Caddo Parish courthouse. So we often used the family car to drop him off or pick him up on the Common Street viaduct. But we would drop him off or pick him up at the steps across the street from the KCS Cafe when the weather was bad.

Trey
Shreveport, LA
3/1/2015

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My father worked at the Cotton Belt Southern Pacific Railroad office on Lake St in Shreveport La. for about 40 years. When I was a kid in the 60s I loved to look at the pictures of the engines that hung on the office walls. A co worker and railroad historian named Asa Hemperly took many of the pictures. I would love to have pictures showing the old Lake St office if anyone has some.

Randy Ballard
Benton , TX
4/4/2015

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My father was a highway design engineer that worked for a firm contracted to design segments of I-20 from Dallas County to the Mississippi River Bridge. I remember him getting a little aggravated when Shreveport Mayor Clyde Fant brought a bus load of Shreveport and Bossier City businessmen and civic leaders to Dallas one Friday morning in order to inspect the plans for building the I-20 highway through Caddo and Bossier Parish.

Mayor Fant began to insist there must be I-20 entrance and exit ramps on the proposed highway at Louisiana Avenue in order to provide easy access to and from Shreveport Union Train Station. My father was one of the engineers that explained to the mayor and his party that the final plans through Shreveport and Bossier had already been submitted and approved, therefore changes to the current designs would not be possible.

Our father told us that Mayor Fant remained cool and calm, but didn't give up. He simply smiled and asked to borrow a phone, then called U.S. Senator Russell Long in Washington, DC, who then called someone in the White House. Less than twenty minutes later the U.S. Secretary of Transportation called the president of the engineering firm, who then came downstairs and instructed his employees to work with Mayor Fant in order to make whatever changes necessary to satisfy his concerns.

I remember this happened on a Friday because my father was about to start a long overdue vacation. Our family was looking forwarded to leaving the next morning to see the Grand Canyon and visit Disney Land for the very first time. But these design changes caused my father's vacation to be delayed, so we kids were very disappointed.

Mayor Fant approved a number of design changes. Some buildings along Louisiana Avenue were purchased and torn down so the planned I-20 west bound exit to Common Street would continue curving around so it would intersect with Louisiana Avenue. A Line Avenue overpass was added to allow an already planned I-20 east bound exit ramp onto Line Avenue to also extend to Louisiana Avenue. And an east bound entrance ramp from Louisiana Avenue onto I-20 was added, but this meant the east bound exit ramp to Spring Street would have to exit I-20 from the left lane.

Senator Long acquired the additional funds necessary to pay for these changes, the contract was changed, and work was soon begun on that section. Then a group of medical doctors operating a hospital on Louisiana Avenue learned about these changes and became unhappy because they were planning to build a new wing on the north side of their building. The newly planned east bound exit ramp to Louisiana Avenue would cause them to lose the area they needed for a parking lot, and they claimed it could cause their hospital to have to close.

So, yet additional changes were ordered and Senator Long quickly acquired the additional funding necessary. Now the I-20 overpass over Common Street had to be lengthened so the extended east bound exit ramp could be curved around to exit on Common Street instead of Louisiana Avenue. But the design of the overpass on Line Avenue also had to be changed, and it was already being constructed. So parts of it had to be demolished and rebuilt.

Our father drove us through Shreveport a number of times over the years and would always point out how they had to bend the rules in order to design that section of I-20. He referred to it as the "Clyde Fant Fiasco" because that train station closed and burned down before the new highway was completed. Our family finally went on that vacation out west, but not until the following summer.

My brother is now a highway engineer. A number of years ago he mentioned there were too many accidents occurring on I-20 east bound at both the Spring Street left side exit and the Louisiana Avenue low-visibility entrance, both of which were predictions our father had made. So the I-20 entrance ramp from Louisiana Avenue was removed, which then allowed the Spring Street exit ramp to be rebuilt to allow I-20 traffic to exit from the right side of the highway.

I'm sure Mayor Fant meant well when he interfered with the highway design, but many accidents could have been avoided and tens of millions of dollars could have been saved had he not done so. This is why we have highly qualified engineers designing our highways. RIP dad, you were right!

Janice
Dallas, TX
4/5/2015

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Janice , I am retired from the Engineering Div of the City of Shreveport and your story is right on point. I hired on just after Mayor Fant left office but heard he did have special connections with Washington. I was loaned out to a large Dallas engineering firm known as Black & Veatch for three years. I wonder if your father was with them ? The hospital you may have been thinking of was Doctors Hospital. It is now closed. Back in the late 60's and early 70's the big talk around Shreveport was passenger rail service coming back to Shreveport with Amtrac. There were big plans for Amtrac to reopen the Union Station.That is why Mayor Fant wanted interstate access. It never happened due to Amtrac ending passenger service around Longview Texas.Your father must have been a top notch Civil Engineer.

Randy Ballard
Benton , LA
4/5/2015

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Janice, the exits along that section of I-20 have always seemed to be very different from others. Thanks for the explanation, now the reason for those differences make some sense.

Doctor's Hospital was located across Louisiana Ave from Hamilton Terrace Junior High School, which is where I went to school in the mid 60s. We watched the north wing of the hospital being built during that time. So I was among a group students attending the open house held there for the ribbon cutting ceremony to formally open the new building. We really just wanted to get some free refreshments and tour the building we had watched being built from our school. While we were there, Mayor Fant came over to greet us and took the time to ask each of us our names as we shook his hand, then he chatted with us several minutes. He seemed to be a really nice person, and we were impressed that such an important man would spend some time with a group of teenagers (the voting age back then was 21).

I also remember watching from our classroom windows while a brand new overpass was built, then knocked down, and then rebuilt. I never understood why because that seemed to be such a huge waste of money. And I remember east bound traffic originally exited I-20 to Spring Street from the the far left lane, which was confusing to many drivers who were not use to doing that. Also, I remember cutting over to Louisiana Ave one day in order to go east bound on I-20 and being shocked to discover the entrance ramp had been removed. I had never before thought about how the location of the old Union Station affected the highway design.

If indeed there had really been a need for a train station, wouldn't it have cost a lot less money and been a lot easier to have simply built a brand new one at a better location? Another station could have been built someplace that would have had convenient access to the already planned Interstate exits. For instance, Festival Plaza in downtown Shreveport didn't exist back then, and for many years most of it was just a big empty hole in the ground. So the block south of Crockett St between the Market St and Spring St viaducts would have been a good location to build a new smaller station that could have easily served the smaller numbers of train passengers. Or, better yet, if Amtrack had actually begun providing train service to Shreveport, they probably could have arranged to use the existing and very nice T&P Station on Market Street. I don't think any mayor should have been allowed to make such expensive changes to an Interstate highway.

I like the name your dad used, perhaps our city leaders should memorialize that section of I-20 by naming it the "Clyde Fant Fiasco" in honor of all politicians who know how to design things better than engineers.

Trey
Shreveport, LA
4/5/2015

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Trey ,In construction it cannot get any worse than demolishing brand new work unless it has flaws or does not follow the specs. But that was the only choice they had. Government funds cannot go to building private facilities like a train station. And it is cheaper to demolish that section of road than build an entire train station. With the possibility of Amtrac just around the corner Mayor Fant did the right thing for the city. And it takes years to engineer and purchase right of ways for a large interstate highway. When the planning and engineering was underway Amtrac coming to Shreveport was not known. I guess no ones really to blame. Everybody did what they could.It's just one of those bad things that sometimes happens in civil engineering. You try to minimize it but at times it does happen.

Randy Ballard
Benton , LA
4/6/2015

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Does anyone here remember the color sof the lettering on the side of the building and was ther any signage on the front of the building. I am modeling this building as the KCS cafe. Jack Fox I would love to meet with or talk over the phone.

Steven Pawlow
Commerce, TX
6/3/2015

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I have pics of myself taking the train to Jackson and also Kansas City in the mid '60's. Boarding the train. Walking up the ramps.

Jim Mashaw
Shreveport, LA
8/16/2015

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