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The Chicago and Alton Railroad Depot (C & A Depot) survives as a reminder of the town's early history, its ties to the American South during the nineteenth century, and the relationship between railroad entrepreneurs and the towns they created and promoted. Harvey Higgins, a slave-owner and town founder (1869), along with former Confederate Officer A.E. Asbury, served as the C & A railroad director. Together they helped bring the railroad into town, and then sold the land near the railway, owned and operated mills and banks, and otherwise built a town, promoted it, and then profited it from it. Prior to the railroad's arrival, after the Civil War, Lafayette County (where Higginsville sits) grew mainly due to migration from the American South. As such, a strong southern culture emerged, including the owning of slaves. Higgins and Asbury both came from the South (with Asbury serving a prominent role in the Confederacy). But, the railroad's arrival was concurrent with a new wave of migration from places like Ohio, Illinois, and Iowa. Furthermore, the railroad existed, in part, because of the growth of Chicago and its ties to St. Louis and Kansas City. Thus C &A Depot also stands as a reminder of that period of transition for Higginsville and Lafayette County.

Chicago and Alton Railroad Depot at Higginsville (C & A Depot). Today it operates as The Harvey Higgins Historical Society.

Chicago and Alton Railroad Depot at Higginsville (C & A Depot). Today it operates as The Harvey Higgins Historical Society.

The Chicago and Alton Railroad Depot (also known as C & A Depot or Higginsville Station) is symbolic of the economic and cultural transition that occurred in Missouri after the Civil War. The railway emerged when northern migrants (including immigrants) came to Lafayette County, which had long embraced values tied to the American South. As well, the town's economics during the late nineteenth century enjoyed strong ties to Chicago, Kansas City, and St. Louis. Harvey Higgins, a slave-owner and town founder (1869), along with former Confederate Officer A.E. Asbury, served as the C & A railroad director. They proved instrumental in furthering the town's residential, commercial, and industrial development, with the railroad serving as the anchor, and they earned exceptional wealth as a result. Asbury also co-created veterans home for former Confederate Soldiers, demonstrating the town's strong cultural ties to the American South.

Higginsville's history has ties to the United States' late-nineteenth-century westward migration into such places as Missouri, Arkansas, and the eastern Great Plains. Before the railroad arrived, and long before a strong tie existed between Kansas City and Chicago, the earliest pioneers settling in Lafayette County (where Higginsville is located) primarily came from southern U.S. locations such as Virginia, the Carolinas, Kentucky, and Tennesse. As a result, southern culture abounded. Many of the migrants during the 1840s and 1850s brought with them slaves and slaveholding traditions; the area became known as "Little Dixie." Indeed, in 1860, slaves made up at least twenty-five percent of the county's population, and residents commonly supported the Confederacy during the Civil War.

After the war, and when the railroad helped transform Missouri, St. Louis and Kansas City evolved into significant metropolitan centers with transportation networks linked with those of Chicago. (From 1870 - 1900, Chicago's population grew from 299,000 to nearly 1.7 million, making it the fastest-growing city in world history.) The C & A Railroad, and Higginsville's development, speak to the market and railroad expansion tied to Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City. 

Thus, by the time the railroad arrived, Higginsville and other nearby locations were in the midst of a transition. Migrants from such places as Ohio, Illinois, and Iowa -- many of whom were immigrants -- now intermingled with a native populace tied to the American South. Meanwhile, the concurrent development of the railroad and commodification of the Midwest and Great Plains farmlands also linked the local economy to northern cities. Higginsville and the arrival of the C & A railroad emerged during this period of transition, although sympathies to the South remained strong. 

One of those early migrants was Harvey Higgins, born in 1812 near Lexington, Kentucky, and moved to Liberty, Illinois (located 120 miles north of St. Louis in west-central Illinois) when he was twenty-three. He then immigrated to Missouri and purchased 400 acres in Lafayette County. He got involved in the grain and stock trade and hemp, which proved highly successful. By the Civil War, Higgins had become a member of the elite class by doubling his landholding. And, demonstrating his "southernness," he also owned twenty-one slaves. 

Although Higgins lost a substantial amount of property during the Civil War, he retained his banking and railroad interests. When railway lines emerged near today's Higginsville (and new towns resulted), it inspired him to develop a new town. Higgins, a stockholder & director of the Lexington and St. Louis Railroad and owner of over 200 acres through which the railroad passed, designed the Higginsville plat in 1869. Higgins built a small hotel there and conceived plans to construct a shipping center for farmers, but he also hoped to profit from real estate sales on the land. (Commonly, railroad owners would benefit from owning the land for which they placed rail lines. The value of the land would increase dramatically. Hence, railroad owners would sell the land for a substantial profit.)

The Lexington and St. Louis depot appeared as the town's first depot. A.E. Asbury, another town promoter, managed one of the first mercantile houses near the depot and then became responsible for a cluster of prominent Higginsville sites surrounding the future C & A depot. Higginsville grew to a population of 250, with its residential and commercial construction aligning with the railroad. During that same period (the 1870s), Higgins became a "corporator and director" of the C & A railroad (a position he held through the 1890s). In 1879, C & A extended its tracks across Missouri, effectively connecting Kansas City to Chicago through St. Louis. The C & A line ran through Higginsville, which became the local hub for regional trade; the town's population tripled within a few years.  

The C & A depot emerged at the south end of Higginsville and consequently spurred the development of a commercial district in the same area, which benefited Higgins well financially. Higgins and his son-in-law, John McMeekins, enjoyed a flourishing real estate business. Higgins also was an organizer, stockholder & director of the American Bank located just one block from the C & A Depot, helped finance the local Grange mercantile, and finally, was a stockholder and director in the Higginsville Milling Company located just west of the C & A Depot near the town's industrial center. Higgins also served on the local City Fathers of Higginsville town board for eleven years, co-founded the Lafayette County Industrial and Stock Association in 1880, served as an elder in the local Presbyterian church, donated land to money towards construction for several churches, and served as chairman of the Democratic County Central Committee. 

Meanwhile, Asbury, born in Virginia (modern-day West Virginia) in 1836, came to Missouri in 1856; he and his family were sympathetic to the Confederates. In 1859, after attending college in Virginia and Pennsylvania, Asbury (at the age of twenty-three) began his law practice in Houston, Missouri. However, the war interrupted his practice. Asbury became a delegate to the secession convention at Jefferson City in 1861 and then accepted a commission as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Confederate army, stationed in south-central Missouri. He spent a year in a Union prison during the war before returning to the battlefield. His service in the rebel army resulted in his disbarment, but his loyalty to the Confederates made him a popular figure in Lafayette County.

After the state disbarred Asbury, he went into the mercantile business in Dover, Missouri, until he moved to Higginsville in 1878. He established Asbury-Catron Bank (which evolved into the American Bank, where Higgins became a stockholder and director). Higgins and Asbury developed a strong bond that included Higginsville's second addition (expansion) being named Asbury's addition. With the news of the C & A railroad coming to town, Asbury built his home a block away from where the historic depot arose; Asbury eventually co-directed the C & A railroad with Higgins.

Asbury also profited mightily from his connection to the railroad. He directed the construction of six miles of railroad track into local coal mines, and he became a director in the Higginsville Switch Company, which connected the Missouri Pacific and C &A railroads. Higgins also organized several other banks, became active in the local Fair Association, and served with Higgins as a Democratic committeeman in Lafayette County. Lastly, Asbury served as president of the Higginsville Milling Company (Higgins was a stockholder and director). 

Asbury's connection to the Confederacy did not cease with the end of the Civil War. He co-founded Missouri's Confederate Home Association and acted as its treasurer. The veteran's home hosted former Confederate soldiers for sixty years. Higginsville converted the grounds into a 135-acre Confederate Memorial Cemetery after the last Confederate veterans died. Now known as the Confederate Memorial State Historic Site, controversy abounds. Two principal issues involve the museum's lack of focus on slavery (both in Missouri and as a central part of the war) and the flying of the Confederate battle flag for more than a century. In 2003, the governor ordered the site to stop flying the battle flag, but attempts remain by some groups to have it flown again.

By the mid-1880s, just as northern migrants began to merge with traditional southern culturally speaking natives, Asbury, Higgins, and other associates established Higginsville as a strong business and trading town in Lafayette County. In the fall of 1888, the first C & A Railroad depot burned, but unlike burnt frame buildings on Main street replaced with brick buildings, the new depot of 1888-89 remained a frame structure referred to as "Stick Style." In essence, the depot building retained the old traditions of depot construction much in how its principal owners, Higgins and Asbury, maintained their allegiances to the Democratic Party and the old American South. 

The C & A depot, which today is the home to The Harvey Higgins Historical Society, not only sits as a monument to Higgins, Asbury, and the town's early history but also to the history of how successful railroad entrepreneurs benefited from their investment and speculations. Higgins and Asbury platted and promoted a town sitting on the route served by a railroad they directed. The two also managed and built mills, switch yards, banks, and they sold real estate on land they owned near the depot. So, although the duo both suffered losses during the war, they seized on the growing link between Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City and grew into wealthy individuals while also helping Higginsville expand in the process.

Cronon, William. Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. New York: W. W. Norton, 1991.

Kansas City Star Editorial Board. "'Southern cause'? Missouri's Confederate memorial skips over the evils of slavery." Kansas City Star (Kansas City). October 9, 2020.

"Lafayette County History." Lafayette County Government Website. Accessed February 5, 2022.

Morrow, Lynn. "Nomination Form: Chicago and Alton Railroad Depot at Higginsville." National Register of Historic Places. 1985. 

White, Richard. Railroaded. The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America. New York: W.W. Norton, 2011.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Jimmy Emerson, Sept. 2009 via