The Southeast Missourian continued its examination of attorney I.R. Kelso's civic legacy in the weeks after his death in 1951. This fourth article explored the turbulent franchise agreement between the city of Cape Girardeau and the Frisco Railroad.
This image of the Frisco passenger station on Water Street in Cape Girardeau was taken from the 1906 city directory. (Southeast Missourian archive)
Published Dec. 14, 1951:
SOME EVALUATIONS OF THE COMMUNITY
SERVICE RENDERED CAPE GIRARDEAU BY
ARTICLE No. 4.
One hot summer evening back in 1909 the late Moses Whybark walked into a council meeting and asked to be heard. M.E. Leming was mayor and the eight councilmen were all present. Mr. Leming had recently been elected on a pledge to get street paving started and there was always much business to attend to at these monthly meetings.
Mr. Whybark was the district attorney for the Frisco railroad and will be remembered by many citizens as one of the finest men of the community. He told the council meeting that he had called to request the renewal of the Frisco franchise which had been inherited from the Houck organization. To use his exact words, as were published in the news report of the council meeting in this newspaper the next day, Mr. Whybark said: "The Frisco railroad elects to have its franchise renewed for a term of 30 years."
In the discussion Mayor Leming said he had no idea what such a request meant. Mr. Whybark then explained that all that was necessary to be done was for the council to pass a resolution declaring that the city of Cape Girardeau officially desired to renew the franchise as requested. It had been stated that once such a franchise had been granted and the railroad had complied with it satisfactorily, all the city had to do was to extend it. The outcome of this meeting was that Mayor Leming pledged Mr. Whybark that the council would look into the matter and report without delay.
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It didn't take long for Mayor Leming to learn in talks with lawyers that utility franchises were not self-perpetuating and that it was up to the council to study the matter carefully. At the next regular meeting of the council Mayor Leming requested the appointment of I.R. Kelso as a special attorney to represent the city in negotiating a new franchise, and as the railroad situation in Cape Girardeau was still a live issue due to the removal of Frisco headquarters and terminals from the town a short time previously, the mayor's request was unanimously approved.
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It wasn't long until the council had advised Mr. Whybark that because the town had grown rapidly and the use of the city's property along the river front had become important, the railroad would be expected to pay rental for the exclusive right. Reduced freight rates, the river front needed fixing up, the property in north Cape that had been deeded to the railroad for yards should be returned to the city, and other provisions were included. Judge Whybark appeared at the next council meeting to say, in his very polite and pleasant way, that the Frisco could not be expected to enter into such extensive requests but wanted to treat fairly with the city.
Mr. A.J. Davidson was then president of the Frisco, Mr. Carl R. Gray was executive vice-president, Mr. F.G. Jonah was chief engineer. It wasn't long until they came to the Cape for a social visit. They conferred with groups of business men, particularly with the leading shippers, and they called on the city officials individually to say that the Frisco would try to be fair, but it should not be expected to do the impossible. Just casually a remark was dropped that it was hoped the railroad would not be forced to move its tracks out of town.
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No sooner had the visitors left than a report was circulated that engineers were surveying a new route from Neelys Landing toward Delta. Then citizens began fearing that ruination was again knocking at Cape's door. As time went on one whispered report after another disturbed the atmosphere. At the council meetings citizens appealed for care lest the Frisco retaliate in a demanding way.
Frisco officials came frequently for conferences with city officials and citizens, always in the most friendly spirit. A public meeting was called by Mayor Leming to hear the Frisco officials. Common Pleas courtroom couldn't hold the crowd that tried to get in. It had been reported that Mr. Gray would warn if the requests of the city council were not withdrawn or reduced, the railroad would leave town.
Mr. Gray was as pleasant as ever and after explaining that the railroad wanted to be fair, etc., but could not go as far as the city was requesting, a man in the back of the room yelled "throw him out." For a time it looked like trouble might ensue, but through it all two men sat on the platform as calm as could be. One was Mr. Gray, smoking a large cigar, and the other was I.R. Kelso. Mayor Leming was busy trying to restore order.
Finally Mr. Gray was permitted to finish his talk. He said that in order to please all citizens the officials had agreed that the best way to settle the controversy was for the Frisco to give the city $125,000 for a city park, which would bring enjoyment and good health to all citizens and would always be the pride of the community. In the end, after the disgraceful conduct of one person, the meeting was concluded in the finest spirit. It had been agreed to give the offer due consideration and Mr. Gray said he would return at any time to help work out a settlement that would be generally satisfactory. "What will help your city will help us," he concluded.
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Not long after this meeting Mayor Leming called a session of the city council in the courtroom and urged citizens to attend. A tentative plan for a settlement had been worked out and would be submitted for community consideration. Again the place was packed with many standing in the park.
Mayor Leming explained that many conferences with shippers and others had been held, the council had been kept fully informed, and while there was still some disagreement, a tentative plan had been worked out. Special Attorney Kelso then proceeded to read and explain the proposal...