Railroads have played an important role in the history of Lawson.
Santa Fe Railroad
In 1868, the St. Joseph Railroad Company was organized to build a line between St. Joseph and southern Ray County where connections with Lexington, just across the river, could easily be made. Work started that year, beginning in south Ray County, and was fast approaching the present Lawson area by the spring of 1870. Josh H. Raum had bought land with the express purpose of reselling it to the St. Joseph Land Company for a depot site.
In June of 1870, Raum sold the company forty undivided acres for $1,200. Frank Brock, Robert Hunter, Joseph Rippey, William Rippey, James Bronaugh, Robert Finch, Thomas Finch, J. A. Smith, W. W. Smith, and John Crowley all had a hand in helping the land company to decide on that particular acreage for a depot and town site. A depot was started at once, and a town platted around it.
The new town was named Doniphan, in honor of an esteemed Ray and Clay county citizen who had given illustrious service in the Mexican War. It was discovered, however, in applying for a post office permit, that Missouri already had a Doniphan so Lawson was next chosen. This was in honor of the president of the new railroad line, a member of the Donnell, Lawson and Company banking firm, of New York; formerly a citizen of St. Joseph. When that, too, was found taken, the new Ray county town was called Lawson Station. Later “Station” was dropped because the other Lawson decided to change its name.
Lawson’s first depot master was Eldorus F. Ammerman, John M. Ward took charge in 1908, and John Stockton was a long time Santa Fe depot agent.
The railroad line that brought Lawson into being changed hands several times over the years. It was known as the Joseph branch of the St. Louis and Pacific railroad, St. Joseph branch of the St. Louis, Kansas City, and Northern railroad, St. Joseph branch of the Wabash and a branch of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe System.
In 1887, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad also built a line through Lawson establishing a depot beyond the north end of the main street. It gave farmers of the Lawson area more choices as to where to market their grain and livestock, and town merchants more of a selection in wholesale houses. As for residents the addition of that direct line to Kansas City was wonderful, because from the very beginning it ran two trains per day, each way.
During the fall fair in Lawson, held for more than a decade from 1887 on, and the annual August picnic, the Milwaukee locals put on extra cars to accommodate the great crowds that waited all along the line, all bound for Lawson.
In the early 1900s the Milwaukee added their special Limited trains. The city bound one stopped in Lawson at 6:30 a.m. and the northbound one came between 6 and 7:30 p.m.
1905 or 1906 – the Milwaukee railroad stationed a regular day operator for the first time
1926 – the Milwaukee added sleeping car service to its Kansas City- Chicago line
In 1953 T. E. Manso rounded out his forty second year as the Milwaukee’s Lawson agent.
In June 1972 the former Lawson depot was moved to Excelsior Springs to provide a shelter for workers of the Milwaukee railroad
Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad
In 1931 a third line, The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad came through, having made contract with the Milwaukee for use of its depot and other facilities within the town limits.
February 1, 1950 – the local railroads reduced their service, so a Star Route Service for United States Mail was opened between Chillicothe and Excelsior Springs, serving the towns between.
1952 – The railroads offered its tank ponds north of town to be used as a water source for the new municipal water system. With the change to diesel engines the tank pond was no longer a necessity for the railroad.
Today, no passenger train stops in Lawson.