Bird's Point, Missouri
For seventeen years the principal northern terminus of the Cotton Belt was at Bird's Point, a spot in Missouri on the west bank of the Mississippi, opposite and a little above the mouth of the Ohio River. Traffic through this gateway to the North'was interchanged at Cairo with the Illinois Central, Big Four, and Mobile and Ohio Railroads.
In addition to a yard and transfer shed, the Cotton Belt constructed and maintained at Bird's Point a transfer incline and tracks for loading cars on steamers. After the Iron Mountain (Missouri Pacific) Railroad's incline at Bird's Point was washed away by the river, that road used the Cotton Belt's incline there.
On July 10, 1891, a contract was signed with the Illinois Central Railroad for the use of its terminal facilities at Cairo, Illinois. On the same day a joint arrangement was made with the Iron Mountain for use of its transfer steamers between Bird's Point and Cairo.
Transfer boat service at Bird's Point presented many seemingly overwhelming difficulties. The transfer at Cairo was a long and hard one. At high water it was almost ten miles across the river, at low water not over four or five. Ice gorges and high water frequently interrupted traffic for several days at a time. A stage of forty-nine feet on the Cairo gauge caused overflow of the tracks at Bird's Point. Four feet or less of low water on the Cairo gauge either interrupted or completely stopped traffic. It was not unusual for service to be discontinued as long as two months at a time.
Maintenance of the incline required constant attention. Since its exposed location was highly vulnerable to the many changes of current and channel of the river, any system of permanent protection work was practically impossible. During the twenty-five years from 1882 to 1907, the tracks at Bird's Point were overflowed in ten different years and low water obstructed traffic nine different years.
Continued losses were suffered by the company through the diversion of traffic due to the uncertainty of the crossing at Bird's Point. Looking around for a cheaper and more certain river crossing, the board of directors decided upon Gray's Point, seventeen miles northeast from Delta, Missouri. It was declared by engineers to be the shortest distance for transfer across the river, as well as the safest and best point to maintain and operate an incline. In 1898 the Cotton Belt began operation of the transfer at Gray's Point.
In September, 1908, the river bank at Bird's Point caved off so much as to practically destroy the boat yard and most of the facilities. When, in April of 1909, the transfer incline was washed away by the river, it was not replaced.
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