The Stanley, Merrill and Phillips Railway (SM&P) was chartered in 1893. Organized by Northwestern Lumber Company business interests, the plan was to connect the following lumber towns by rail: Stanley in Chippewa County, Merrill in Lincoln County, and Phillips in Price County. Stockholders included D. R. Moon, J. T. Barber, G S Long, and S T McKnight. By the time it was completed, the private investors hoped the railway would be a full 150 miles long.
In 1898, The Stanley Republican stated that the 27 mile long railroad would extend a line to Hawkins in order to connect with the Soo Line Railroad. Freight and passenger services were extended to towns and villages along the line and new equipment was added in 1902. By 1903, 23.25 miles additional tracks had been added. Short spurs were added and removed to accommodate cutting in forested areas along the line. However, the tracks never made it as far as Hawkins.
In 1909 a sixty horsepower 35 passenger railcar was purchased to run twice a day from Stanley to Jump River. The car made connections with the Soo at Gilman and the Omaha at Hannibal. On Sundays it could be employed for special excursions. Sometime after 1912 the car caught fire, burned, and was never replaced.
Decline in Logging and the Need for a Railway
The Jump River area began to be logged off significantly beginning in 1922. A large logging operation was centered north and east of Jump River extending as far as Price County. This seems to be the last large scale activity along the SM&P.
The Northwestern Lumber Company began to sell off logged over land in the late 1920s. In 1929,the stockholders of the SM&P Railway petitioned for abandonment of some track. Local residents and businesses tried to stop this action. In 1933, the abandonment succeeded and the little railway came to an end. Within a year, much of the track and other usable materials were taken up. To quote Paul Nagle in The Stanley, Merrill and Phillips Railway, "the railroad is gone. The company is gone. The woodsmen are gone. Traces of the old grade can still be found. Some are visible along State Trunk Highway 73. But the sound of the axe and the saw and the noise of the S.M.& P. running-up-the-line, these must be heard and seen in out mind’s eye because the S. M. & P. Railway is history."
End of the Line
Did the railway ever stretch its full 150 miles? No, the Stanley, Merrill and Phillips Railway never even got to Merrill let alone Phillips. It got almost as far north as Ingram. The early growth and development of communities along the line benefited from the old line and the commerce it generated.
More Information Paul Nagle wrote and published the story of the S. M. & P. Railway in 1979. This article uses Nagle’s book for data.