In the early 1900s, the City of Cape Girardeau and officials with the Frisco Railroad were locked in a battle over renewal of a franchise agreement that would allow Frisco to continue to operate its trains through the city. Adding fuel to the fire was the belief by many in Cape Girardeau that the road had violated the terms of an earlier agreement.
As negotiations progressed, the city demanded several concessions from the company, including the improvement of the Cape Girardeau riverfront and construction of a new railroad depot. (The old, frame depot was built in 1901 by Cape Girardeau contractor Edward Regenhardt. It was located on the river side of the intersection of Water Street and Broadway.)
As early as 1910 Frisco senior vice president Chris Gray and the Cape Girardeau City Council -- composed of Mayor M.E. Leming, D.A. Glenn and A.C. Vasterling -- agreed to the city's terms, and the city OK'd a 30-year franchise for Frisco to operate here.
After more years of wrangling over cost, size and materials to be used in the depot's construction, Frisco architects sent the drawing below to the city fathers in 1913 for their approval.
But even this wasn't the end of talks. The Frisco again revised the plans, reducing the size of the structure and proposing what the newspaper of the time called a "long, low depot of stucco, not at all in keeping" with the franchise agreement. Plans submitted to the city in 1917 were a great disappointment. Both Mayor Will Hirsch and M.E. Leming, president of the Cape Girardeau Commercial Club, said the Frisco had completely overlooked the needs of the city, and they rejected the designs. Apparently fed up with the city's reaction, the company put aside the matter, saying it was "impossible to agree with city on the plans."
That fall the city threatened to take the railroad to court, and by the following spring it did appeal to the Missouri Public Service Commission. That body sided with the city and recommended construction of a new passenger station here as an "emergency matter." The old depot was described as "a constant menace to the traveling public."
The Frisco at last agreed to build and sought bids for the structure in September 1918. In early December 1919, the contract was given to J.W. Gerhardt of Cape Girardeau on a bid of $57,400, which was about $3,500 over the cost estimated by Frisco engineers. He was also given an Aug. 1, 1920, deadline to complete the building.
While Gerhardt began work immediately, a number of things served to slow him down, including a "cement famine," a lack of door frames and windows, and a carpenters' strike. Ultimately, Gerhardt didn't finish the built until March of the following year.
Finally, on March 5, 1921, Frisco vice president Alexander Hilton officially presented the new depot to the City of Cape Girardeau, with Mayor H.H. Haas accepting it.
Here's part of the Southeast Missourian's coverage of that auspicious event.
Cape Girardeau's Fine New Passenger Station Presented to City Today by Frisco Railroad
FINEST DEPOT ON FRISCO SYSTEM PRESENTED TO CITY TODAY
RAILROAD OFFICIALS HERE FOR CEREMONY AND BIG BANQUET
Cape Girardeau -- designated as the gateway and metropolis of the most fertile section of country in the world -- was officially presented with the finest depot on the Frisco railroad system, this afternoon at a ceremony held in the main waiting room of the depot.
Alexander Hilton, vice president of the railroad company, made the formal presentation in behalf of the railroad. Mayor H.H. Haas, in behalf of the city, accepted it, responding with a talk on the pioneer work that led up to the realization of the hopes of those who worked for the improvement.
H.L. Albert, president of the Chamber of Commerce, acting as master of ceremonies, introduced the speakers and spoke of the completion of the depot as a representative of the commercial interests of the city.
The railroad officials come from St.. Louis in a private car and were entertained during the afternoon. They are to be guests of honor at a banquet at the Chamber of Commerce rooms at 6:30 p.m...
NEW STATION IS CLASSED AMONG MODEL DEPOTS
When one enters the new Frisco depot that was dedicated to the city of Cape Girardeau by Frisco Railroad officials at a ceremony in front of the structure today at 2 p.m., he is first impressed with the substantial features and durability of the interior and the second thought that enters his mind is, "What a beautiful appearance it represents."
And the new Frisco depot is undeniably beautiful, a building that Cape Girardeau can be justly proud of from the standpoint not only of its beauty but the fact that there is hardly any other city in the Frisco system that has a station to compare with it.
To begin with, the walks around the building, particularly these made of Kansas vitrified paving bricks, one of which begins at Independence Street and forms a promenade almost to Merriwether Street and the other which runs between the main and passenger tracks, are beautiful in their presentation of staunch firmness that will be service for decades to come. Winter gales may blow and summer heats may rage, but these bricks were constructed to withstand such hardships.
Exterior of the building is of dark red Kansas mat brick, with terra cotta trimmings. A cement base, four feet in height and finished in light-colored paint, runs entirely around the building. This is offset to wondrous effect by a dark green finish to all woodwork save the doors, which are finished in Philippino stain, a color that resembles light green. Top of the structure is finished off in terra cotta with artistic nameplates of the same material set at north and south ends.
Large steel canopies run horizontally out over the two main waiting room entrances on west and east sides to an extent of about 10 feet. These are supported by iron rods connected to the wall and the center of the canopy on the east side is extended quite a distance to afford shelter for the Harvey stand that projects from the main waiting room. There are two canopies on the west side, one for each entrance. A glazy varnish of brown color adorns the ceilings of these canopies and their outer finish is of dark green to harmonize with other woodwork.
The length of the building is 161 feet and its width is 39 feet. The wings, one of which contains the express and baggage rooms and the other the women's waiting room, office, furnace room and toilets, are 15 feet high and the center, containing Main Waiting Room, is 24 feet high.
Express and baggage rooms were built with substantiality in mind. Their floors are of concrete, walls of red brick with hall radiators for heating, and ceilings of wood finish with brown varnish. A new, convenient feature is the sets of combination horizontal folding doors which open by folding upwards in two sections instead of swinging in regular fashion and being in the way of everything. Baggage is to be headed into the baggage room from the west side where two entrances, bottoms of which are on the level with wagon beds, open to a heavy platform which occupies nearly half of the baggage room floor space. Main Waiting Room is connected with the baggage room with two windows which are to be used in connection with a small office on the inside of the baggage room.
Main Waiting Room is by far the most beautiful room of the structure and could be easily thought to be the club room of some fashionable society were it not for the Harvey stand that protrudes into it from the east side. All the skill of expert interior decorators was lavished on its wall and especially its ceilings to add the beauty touch that they possess now.
The plaster ceiling has been done in old ivory with fantastic light blue designs, worked in intricate patterns, set in between the huge artistically formed beams. Wall paneling is of old pearl while this combination is offset by a greenish-buff wainscoat that extends upward nine feet and is topped with a line of red brick which is also repeated at the bottom for harmony's sake. Floors are of mosaics with simple designs and this floor continues through the corridor at the North side until it ends at Women's Waiting Room, with the same design carried out. Main Waiting Room is 57 by 55 feet in dimensions.
Benches of the Main and Women's Waiting Rooms are constructed of solid oak and are finished in Philippino stain, a light green that has no glistening finish.
Doors in pairs
The eight doors of Main Waiting Room are arranged in pairs, there being two pairs each on east and west sides. Doors are marked with signs in gold paint so that upon entering, if one heeds the sign, he will keep to the right. Jams during train time will be avoided by persons who are leaving the building making exit by one door of each entrance and those entering coming in by the other door.
The corridor, leading from Main Waiting Room to Women's Rest Room, has a wainscoat to correspond with that of Main Waiting Room and its ceiling is finished in old ivory.
Women's Rest Room decorations are carried on the same scale as hose in the corridor. Dimensions of this room are 21 by 22 feet. Its furnishings consist of two rockers and a number of benches, all finished in light green. Its floor is of mosaics. Women's toilet adjoining it on the west side is finished in slate colorings, and has a concrete floor.
Men's toilet is connected with Main Waiting Room and is of the same finish as women's toilet. Space between them is utilized for a heating plant which has a small furnace designed to generate heat for the entire building.
Wall and ceiling tints of the office, which is situated on the east side of the corridor in north wing and opens into Main Waiting room by means of three ticket windows, are of old pearl and old ivory with wainscoating of a lead finish. It has the only wooden floor of any room in the building.
Gerhard had contract
The contract was awarded to J.W. Gerhardt, local contractor, Dec. 15, 1919. Contract price was nearly $58,000, which did not include the furniture and fixtures, lighting fixtures, lamps for platform posts, steel baggage and express room doors, and a few other minor necessities.
Plans of the structure were perfected by R.C. Stephens, Frisco architect, but original plans were designed by the late W.E. Parlow, Cape architect, who died last summer.
Proud of it
"You have a depot of which you can be proud, both from a view of beauty and durability," said J.S. Broughton, building superintendent and inspector from Frisco architect's office, who has been supervising work ever since the building was begun. "It is one of the most beautiful stations in the system," he stated.
Mr. Broughton is to remain here for some time to make final settlements with the contractor and local firms.
The first train to "run into" the new station was the Poplar Bluff, Missouri, "moose" train. It arrived at 10:38 a.m. on March 7, 1921. A large crowd was on hand to watch Conductor McGavin pull in.
The station, which saw the comings and goings of such notables as Sen. Richard Nixon, John Philip Sousa, Billy Sunday, the St. Louis Browns and Cape Girardeau's own Golden Troopers American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps, continued to serve the community until June 1960, when the passenger service was shifted to the freight depot at Aquamsi and William streets, and the passenger station was razed. The last regularly scheduled passenger train left Cape Girardeau Sept. 17, 1965.