Trains Come Thundering Along
Bonham Daily Favorite, October 17, 1993
Evidently not all the citizens of Fannin County were as enamored of travel by rail as were people in the other sections of the state. The county-wide defeat of the railroad subsidy in 1872 may have had some impact on the attempt by Bonham city officials to insure the construction of a first class depot in the city of Bonham.
At least some token opposition arose for a reporter from The North Texas Enterprise reported in the January 11, 1873 edition that a letter was on file in the mayor's office from the officials of the railroad informing city officials that "in case the city votes the subsidy now in prospect, both streets leading to the depot grounds (Main and Center Streets) shall be left open. This we believe, removes much of the objection entertained against the proposed changes in the location of the depot."
The results of the subsidy election are unknown. No newspapers exist to report the data, nor are city records available. The action taken by the Bonham City Council, on the face of it, seems to indicate that this subsidy too failed. There is nothing to indicate any kind of payment to the railroad.
However, on September 10, 1873, Mayor Charles D. Grace, and Aldermen Gideon Smith, Peter B. Maddrey, and John Sparger signed deeds granting several large tracts of land to the Texas and Pacific Railway. These several hundred acres extended along the north side of Powder Creek from city limits to city limits. Deed records do not show the city purchasing the land and evidently this was city controlled acreage from the original Bailey Inglish and John Simpson donations to the developing town in 1843.
One of the deeds was contingent upon the railroad company "establishing and maintaining a passenger and freight depot upon the lands." The depot was constructed on lots 5 and 6 of block 19 of the Simpson donation.
Construction on the depot was evidently underway by late Spring, 1873. The North Texas Enterprise has several references to the structure in nearly every edition of the paper even though the land deeds had not actually been recorded by that time. In fact, soon after the Bonham election on the railroad subsidy, The Enterprise began a campaign for the city fathers to construct a "suitable wooden sidewalk from the courthouse square to the vicinity of the new depot."
Meanwhile, actual construction of the rail line was rapidly approaching Bonham from the west. Newspapers early in July stated that laying of the rail from Sherman had begun. Actual construction had begun some months before as the roadbed was graded and packed. Trestles were probably constructed along with the rail beds since the route of the line took it across about a half a dozen watercourses between Bonham and Sherman.
On July the trackage was completed to Pink Hill (east of Sherman) and August 16, 1873 the citizens of Savoy turned out to greet the crew as the construction train arrived in that village.
Between this last report on August 16 and October 25 the records are silent. Later writings indicate that the first train steamed into Bonham on October 12, 1873. Undoubtedly the actual construction of the railbed must have taken place some days earlier. The reason for the lack of reporting of this momentous event can be found on the front page of The Enterprise, October 25, 1873. "During our absence many important changes have occured in our city and the surroundings. The Transcontinental has been completed and trains come thundering along ever few hours." A small notice on the same page reported that the newspaper had not been published since the August date due to the illness of the editor and publisher
The editor Tom Burnett, could not resist the temptation to exhibit some typical 19th century journalism. In a side bar to the railroad article he waxed rhapsodically on the changes in town: "New houses have sprung up everywhere and the town has put on railroad airs in profusion. Our merchants and businessmen have all acquired an 'additional spring in the heel,' and 'claw hammer coats' and four story lids of the latest distress parade the streets in droves. We hardly know the place and fear we shall have to fly around briskly (with pencil behind ear) to keep up with the times and seasons."
Three days after Burnett's return to Bonham journalism, he reported that the Transcontinenal track was as far east as "Mr. Robert Johnson's some four miles this side of Honey Grove. We learn that the stages will stop there and transfer all the mails to the train after today."
The tracks reached Honey Grove on November 1 and two weeks later the line was completed to Brookston in Lamar County. There construction ceased.
In mid November a financial panic swept the country. The failure of Cooke's Northern Pacific Railroad was given credit for starting the panic. Texas was hit harder than many states because it was still in the slow process of recovering from Reconstruction.
To this point the Texas and Pacific had encountered heavy expenses primarily because of the distance it was required to haul its construction materials. The line was forced to enter receivership. Reorganization enabled it to recover financially and by 1875 the company was reorganized and construction continued.
When the line stopped at Brookston, the connecting link being built from Texarkana had not even reached Clarksville. Passengers traveling to the east were forced to detrain at Brookston for a connection with the El Paso Stage Company's Concord Coaches to travel the remainder of the distance to Paris, Clarksville, and Texarkana. At Texarkana the passengers could once again return to rail travel by transferring to the Cairo and Fulton Line which was now completed into the northeast corner of Texas.
During the halt in railroad construction and the continued use of the regional stagecoach, citizens of the area saw briefly a return to events right out of the pages of the standard dime western novel of the period. In late March 1874, passengers from the west had detrained at the terminus of the rail line and boarded an El Pasco coach for Texarkana.
About 2 miles west of Paris, the stage was held up by a gang of men. The passengers were forced to alight from the coach and surrender their valuables to the highwaymen. The most notable loss of the event was $10,000 which was being transported by an official of a Paris bank. It was surmised that the robbers knew of the money which precipitated the holdup. A few days later the men were caught, tried, and later hanged.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas