Sending or Receiving Stations?: The Dual Influence of Railroads in Early 20th-Century Great Plains Settlement

Katherine J. C. White, University of Wisconsin at Madison

This study tests two theses on how railroads shaped settlement patterns in the twentieth century U.S. Great Plains using railroad, population census, and environmental data. Drawing from theories of transportation and development, I supplement standard regression procedures with spatially-oriented techniques to empirically test long-held claims about the relationship of railroads. The Great Plains is a region where settlement is commonly attributed to the railroad. I examine the period after the railroad heyday and before the widespread adoption of the automobile. Study results show a complex relationship between county population growth and the presence of railroads. Counter to the nineteenth-century pattern, the influence of railroads is negative and conditioned by county development; in the first decade, railroads are receiving stations for counties with greater population density and sending agents for less settled places. Spatial effects explain the conditional relationship in later decades. Implications for scholarship concerning transportation and spatial observations are discussed.

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Presented in Session 115: Demography of Frontier Areas