Missouri Pacific Railway Depot, Wisner Louisiana
Economic development and a link to the outside world were the two main notions rural people associated with the railway at the end of the nineteenth century. Poor roads and the lack of navigable waterways had kept many small farmers, particularly in the ante-helium south, from reaching their full economic potential. This was especially the case in Louisiana where vast tracts of timber remained uncut and crops were primarily produced for local use. After the Civil War, however, the railroad made its way through the Louisiana countryside. "Between about 1880 and 1910, some five thousand miles of mainline track were laid, opening sparsely populated areas to settlement". Small communities now had hope that if the railway came to their town, they would have economic prosperity and not just merely survival. This was likely the case for the present town of Wisner, Franklin Parish, Louisiana.
The area embracing the railway at Wisner was first settled in about 1830 by a man named William Blunt. He purchased roughly 3,900 acres which became known as the Hope Estate Plantation. The land in time passed to heirs residing in Maryland who controlled the property via a local business manager. Unfortunately for Blunts' descendants, mismanagement resulted in the property's acquisition in 1876 by a New Orleans creditor. The Hope Estate Plantation eventually became known as Bryan City after it was sold at sheriffs sale in 1877 to a Mr. Bryan.
In 1890, Bryan sold several tracts of land encompassing about five acres to the Natchez and Northwestern Railroad. This company had been in operation since 1881 and eventually merged in 1889 with the New Orleans and Fort Scott Railway to form the New Orleans and Northwestern Railway. The documents related to the merger specifically noted that a depot was to be constructed in Bryan City.
Railroad depots, almost as much as the locomotives themselves, represented progress. The depot was a gateway to the outside world, and curiosity about those from afar drew small town residents. Not only could business be done at the depot, but company agents communicating in Morse code could get news from other towns. This made the depot the focus of much attention in small rural hamlets.
Shortly after Bryan sold that small bit of land to the railroad, Edward Wisner purchased the remaining acreage. The town changed its name from Bryan City to Wisner at about the same time that the Railway built its first depot and began service to the area. The initial building was little more than a shed, and in time it became apparent that a more permanent structure was required to meet the demands of increased economic activity. The existing depot was built in approximately 1895.
The depot at Wisner was the central feature of a group of structures meant to service the railway and its passengers. A large water tank of California redwood was built on the east side of the tracks. A pump house contained a coal fired boiler which powered a well pump. This pump then filled the tank, which it turn supplied water for steam locomotives. Other small utility buildings were present as well.
The size of Wisner increased as it became a center for commercial activity. Businesses sprung up near the depot to make it a hub of the community. Stores in the vicinity flourished and the town soon had its own post office. Mr. Gilbert, who had acquired a half interest in the surrounding plantation land, built a permanent, steam powered cotton gin near the depot.
In 1910 the St. Louis, Iron Mountain, and Southern Railway acquired the assets of the New Orleans and Northwestern Railway, including the depot. Within seven years the railroad was acquired by the Missouri Pacific Railway Corporation. The property remained with the Missouri Pacific Railway for many years. It was remodeled only one time when in 1945, hardwood flooring was installed in Rooms 1, 2, and 3.
As America's highways improved over the years, use of rail systems fell out of favor. By the early 1960's, the depot in Wisner fell into disuse and was eventually sold. The plot of property and associated building were sold to a Mr. Beach in 1970. From then until the late 1990s, the depot building was used by a private business for storage.