After the golden age of the steamboat, port cities like Cape Girardeau suffered as railroads provided alternate means of transportation.
Responding to the post-Civil War railroad boom, a syndicated of local business leaders formed the Cape Girardeau and State Line Railroad Company in 1869 and sold bonds to capitalize the enterprise. However, no track was ever laid, the funds disappeared, and the company went bankrupt leaving the City in great debt.
In 1880 Louis Houck, a local lawyer and entrepreneur, formed the Cape Girardeau Railway Company to link Cape and the Iron Mountain Railway at Delta, Missouri. He formed the Mississippi and Arkansas Railroad in 1894 to connect Cape with the St. Louis, Kennett and Southern Railroads.
Financial and legal difficulties forced Houck's companies into receivership. After acquiring Houck's former holdings in 1902, the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway Company began regular service between Cape Girardeau and St. Louis in time for the World's Fair.