Railroad Fever Gripped the State

Bonham Daily Favorite, October 11, 1992


Although there was some talk of railroad construction in Texas during the years of the Republic, little or nothing was done by the government to assume control or establish regulations over future development. Such lack of activity is understandable since railroad development in the United States was hardly older than the Republic of Texas itself.

By mid century however, railroad fever began to grip the state. Plans and projects for a variety of railroad development began to burgeon in all corners of the state. Bills were introduced regulating railroad construction but most importantly bills chartering railroads were introduced in every session of the legislature. One bill chartering a major railroad was introduced by Senator William T. Scott in 1852. Representing nine stockholders the bill was the beginning of a proposed coast to coast line with the company names the Vicksburg and El Paso Railroad. An error by the clerk of the Senate caused the bill to be imprinted as the Texas Western Railroad rather than the correct title. Deeming it easier to change the name of the railroad than to change the charter, the proposed line was then called The Texas Western, action that was probably illegal but was never questioned.

The legislature in 1854 enacted a bill providing sixteen sections of land for each mile of track constructed by the railroads. The Texas Western began to acquire right' of-way from just east of Marshall, Texas. The lines were also required to begin construction within five years and to complete 20 miles within six years. By 1856 no construction was completed by Texas Western as the line applied for renewal of its charter. The legislature renewed it but the bill was promptly vetoed by Governor E.M. Pease. Pease's veto was easily overridden and the charter remained intact. Some re-organization of the company was begun and the name chaned to the Southern Pacific Railroad (no connection with the later day line).

Material and equipment were imported up Red River to Jefferson and as the track was laid three teams of oxen were used to haul the freight. The charter renewal required that 20 miles be completed by 1858 with "rolling stock." Twenty miles had been completed from the Texas - Louisiana border to Swanson's landing on Caddo Lake, but the steam engine could not arrive by the completion deadline.  In order to save the charter William T. Scott hitched teams of the construction oxen to a flatbed car and hauled it the length of the tracks satisfying the requirement for "rolling stock." The locomotive, nicknamed "Bull of the Woods" for its habit of jumping the rails, was delivered a few weeks later.

The Civil War brought an end to all construction. In 1863 Confederate General Kirby Smith ordered ten miles of the track from Swanson's Landing to Jonesville taken up and relaid from Jonesville to Marshall and back toward Shreveport for connection with other lines.

After the Confederate surrender in 1865 much of the equipment and trackage were in poor condition. Despite the loss of capital suffered by the stockholders, the line was able to construct an additional 24.9 miles from 1 mile west of Marshall toward Longview in the summer of 1869. By 1870 the company along with most of its investors was bankrupt and unable to raise the necessary capital to continue construction. In 1872 the railroad became a part of the newly chartered Texas and Pacific Railway Company.

The re-organization was to have an impact on the development of Fannin County. The new owners decided to change the route of the line so that the railroad would run along the tier of Red River counties. The line was still to originated in Marshall with its Shreveport connections, build northward through Jefferson and on to Texarkana where it would tie in with the newly acquired Memphis El Paso Railroad.

The new line along Red River was designated The Transcontinental Branch and by late 1872 construction was begun. The original construction was planned to begin at Marshall to Texarkana, Texarkana to the west and from Sherman to the east,

On December 7, 1872 a mass meeting of the citizens of Bonham was held at the courthouse to settle a dispute over location of the proposed depot to be constructed when the line arrived in the city. Two sites were offered with strong proponents for both.

One site was east of town in Bois d'Arc bottom. The other was 250 yards south of the courthouse square. In reporting the meeting the editor of The North Texas Enterprise made no preference for the paper's support of the latter location. The site was referred to as "being free from frogs, turtles, water moccasins, mosquitos, and mud." After a three hour debate a petition was drawn up requesting city fathers to order and election on the subsidy question and to locate the depot at the site south of the square. The subsidy question involved a demand by the railroad owners for a financial donation by the city to aid in construction of the line and the depot.

The election was schedule for mid January with funds in the amount of $25,000 to be allocated to the subsidy. There was still much bitter feeling over the depot location and partly as a result the election failed 425 votes against and 229 voted for.

Fearing a loss of the railroad for the city, the officials took another course of action. Using several tracts of land owned by the city from the Inglish and Simpson donations, land along Powder Creek from city limits to city limits was donated in lieu of the subsidy. The deed to the property specified that "Texas and Pacific Railway Company shall establish and maintain a passenger and freight depot upon the land herein conveyed."

Fannin County Museum of History

   

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