This study investigates how railroads shaped settlement patterns in the twentieth century US Great Plains using railroad, population census, and environmental data. The substantive question speaks to recent theoretical and methodological interests in contextual and ecological issues. Drawing from theories of transportation and development, I use spatially-oriented techniques to empirically test long-held claims about the relationship of railroads to population development. The Great Plains is a region where settlement is commonly attributed to railroad expansion. Study results show a complex relationship between county population growth and the presence of railroads during the period after the railroad heyday and before the widespread adoption of the automobile, 1900–1930. Counter to the nineteenth century pattern, the association between population change and railroads is negative. Yet the relationship is conditioned by the stage of county development; in the first decade, railroads are receiving stations for counties with smaller population density and sending agents for more settled places; the reverse is observed during the 1920s; and no significant relationship exists during the 1910s. Spatial effects are addressed in the analysis, and theoretical and statistical implications for scholarship concerning transportation and spatial units of analysis are discussed.
Population Research and Policy Review – Springer Journals
Published: Nov 8, 2007
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