Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas
In 1872 Construction Began on the Railroad
Bonham Daily Favorite, October 10, 1993
Railroad fever began to spread throughout the state by the close of the 1860's as a fresh infusion of capital offered the promise of reviving long held dreams on the part of would be Texas railroad moguls. Seven months after the old Southern Pacific line had been purchased by the newly organized Southern Transcontinental Railroad the U.S. Congress stepped into the developing industry by chartering a new company called the Texas and Pacific Railway Company.
Almost immediately after receiving the charter, officials of the Texas and Pacific began a swift program of acquiring several small Texas companies which had been decimated by the war. The first of the lines purchased was the Memphis El Paso and Pacific Railroad which originally was chartered by the State of Texas in 1854 to construct a line running through the tier of Red River counties.
Next the Texas and Pacific gained control of both the Southern Transcontinental Railroad and its previously acquired control of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. The oldest of these three acquisitions was the Southern Pacific which was originally chartered as The Texas Western Railroad in 1853. With these purchases the Texas and Pacific came into possession of forty-five miles completed by the Southern Pacific and sixty-five miles of graded roadbed and six miles of iron laid by the Memphis El Paso and Pacific. No completed construction was acquired from the Southern Transcontinental, only its charter and nearly sixty thousand dollars for old accounts which had been paid to the company.
Assuming control of already established right-of-way was important to the beginning of the new line which enabled company officials to begin an immediate program of construction.
In the late summer of 1872 the Texas and Pacific Railway let contracts to begin construction in its own name. Initially work was begun at three sites. Starting at the terminus of the Southern Pacific line at Longview, work was directed toward Dallas.
Next, taking over the original requirements in the charter of the Memphis El Paso and Pacific, construction was begun on a branch from Marshall to connect with an already graded roadbed at Jefferson with the line ultimately to connect with other construction at Texarkana.
The third contract was let for construction beginning at Sherman toward Texarkana to the east and from Texarkana to the eventual connecting point to the west. The Sherman -Texarkana section was named the Transcontinental Line and was initially planned to be the major line of the company and would connect with the southern branch being built from Marshall to Dallas as the two routes converged at Fort Worth.
The ultimate goal was to construct a line reaching from Texas to the west coast.
As the news of the impending construction was received in towns along the southern bank of Red River, city and county officials began to scramble for commitments from the railroad officials that the Transcontinental line would be built through their counties and towns.
Officials in both Honey Grove and Bonham launched a petition drive which was presented to the Fannin County Commissioners Court at the September term in 1872.
Accepting the petition, the Commissioners ordered that a special election was to be held to approve or disapprove the donation of $74,000 to the railroad to aid in construction of the rail line through Fannin County and to establish depots in the two towns.
Revenue for the donation was to come from bonds issued 'by the Commissioners Court at a rate of 8% per annum. The election was ordered held beginning on Tuesday October 22 and continuing for four successive days
In the absence of any newspapers for that time period it is impossible to know what campaigning was used in support of the issuance of the bonds or what sort of opposition might have arisen.
In the records of the November term of the Commissioners Court a recapitulation of the ballot wording is entered into the records. This restatement indicates that the issuance of the proposed bonds was in the amount of $100,000. Nothing in the records indicates why the amount was increased from the original $74,000 figure.
These same records indicate that the election was held on four consecutive days from October 22 to October 25. The issue was defeated with 229 votes for and 425 votes against. Seven votes were rejected.
No breakdown of the precinct voting is available from the election. It seems entirely plausible that the opposition might have come from those sections of the county where the railroad would not have been of direct influence.
When the county-wide proposition was defeated Bonham held a similar election to insure that an adequate depot would be constructed in the city. By this time it was clear that despite the loss of the county bond money the line would still be constructed through the center of the county.
Some information from late in the year is available from an issue of The North Texas Enterprise published in Bonham on December 7, 1872. A reporter for the paper reported that there was a large gathering of the citizens of Bonham at the courthouse on the previous evening; the subject of the meeting was a proposed subsidy and location of the to be constructed depot.
In his story the reporter reported that two factions were present at the meeting each side proposing different sites for the structure. One site was located in Bois d'Arc Creek bottom east of town. The other site was about 250 yards due south of the courthouse square.
The bias of the newsman is evident in his reporting of the second site as being on "high ground and free from frogs, turtles, water moccasins, mosquitos, and mud."
After a three hour discussion on the pros and cons of supporting the railroad with a subsidy and a choice of location for the town depot, a motion was carried that the city fathers order an election "on the subsidy question, fixing the depot directly south 250 to 350 yards of the courthouse square and to give (to the railroad) $26,000 and the land for the depot."
An election was scheduled for four days beginning January 14, 1873.