The late 1800s was the age of the railroad. Trains steamed across the hills, valleys, and plains of a growing United States, steadily bringing distant communities closer together. Thousands of miles of track were laid down by thousands of men to build a rail network that brought people and goods from one end of the country to the other. One of the most important figures in Arkansas railroad development was business titan Jay Gould.
Born Jason Gould in Roxbury, New York, into a farming family in 1836, he grew to hate farming. As a result, his father, John Burr Gould, reportedly left him at a boarding school with 50 cents and a few changes of clothes. Gould, however, was a quick study with an aptitude for math. As a young man, he found work as an accountant and as a surveyor.
By 1859, he started investing heavily in railroads. After the Civil War, he concentrated on New York-area railways, earning impressive profits and steadily gaining more influence in the railroad industry. The Civil War had delayed railroad construction in the South, and Gould became determined to expand his holdings in the region, ultimately buildings lines from Missouri to Arkansas to Texas and west to Colorado. He formed the Texas and Pacific Railroad in 1871. By 1873, he gained control of the powerful Erie Railway and the Union Pacific Railroad, taking advantage of financial crises and scandals surrounding both companies. In 1879, he took control of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, giving him effective control of one-sixth of the nation’s rails.
As Gould looked west of the Mississippi River, he quickly moved to crush his rivals. Gould merged his many company interests and built hundreds of miles competing tracks across the region. The St. Louis Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad, in which Gould had heavily invested, had completed a line from St. Louis to the Texas border by this time. As the Texas and Pacific reached the Arkansas state line in 1873, Gould parceled out the land connected his railway with the Iron Mountain route and formed the city of Texarkana at the junction of the railroads and the state boundaries.
Gould would buy the St. Louis Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad in 1881 to more fully incorporate his Missouri Pacific network. The Missouri Pacific would become a powerful force in locomotive passenger and freight traffic across the Southwest. By the 1890s, Gould’s companies promised passengers train travel from Chicago, Illinois, to California, through Arkansas, in just three days.
Gould would be responsible for the names of several cities across the nation as his railroads rolled through. Gouldsboro, Pennsylvania, was renamed for him. Gould, Ohio, was named after one of his railroad depots in 1881. Paragould, in the northeast corner of Arkansas, was named for Gould and Texas and St. Louis Railroad owner J. W. Paramore when the town was founded at the intersections of their two routes in 1882. Gould, in southeastern Arkansas, was also named for the railroad developer.
Gould was both admired and hated in his day. He had become incredibly successful in the railroad industry, but his labor policies sparked some of the largest labor strikes in Arkansas History.
For all of his accomplishments in building railroads, he did not live a long life to enjoy it. Gould died of tuberculosis in New York City in 1892.