Fannin County Museum of History


‚ÄčOne Main Street, Bonham, Texas

A New Vigor Took Hold of the Town

Bonham Daily Favorite, October 24, 1993

With the October 12, 1873 arrival of the first train to Bonham a new vigor took hold of the town with a resulting boom in construction and the arrival of new businesses to join those old line merchants who had depended for more than forty years on horse drawn freight wagons for the delivery of goods.

Seeking their fortunes, two young men from Georgia stepped off that first train and decided to cast their lots with the promised prosperity. John W. Peeler and Zac Smith had both come west seeking the opportunity to set themselves up in profitable retail ventures and to both young men Bonham seemed to be the ideal choice. Both men were to play important roles in the future of Bonham as business and civic leaders.

An interesting conclusion to this story of two young forward looking men took place nearly seventy seven years later on July 6, 1950. On that date the last passenger train on the Transcontinental Line made its final run from Texarkana to Fort Worth. Boarding the train in Bonham for a final sentimental journey were Ray Peeler, Jr. and his sister Virginia Peeler, the grandchildren of John W. Peeler. Joining them were Bland Smith and Nunnelee Smith, the son and grandson of Zac Smith.

When the panic of 1873 had subsided by the end of the year, construction was renewed on the Texas and Pacific Lines. With the stoppage, only 54.5 miles, from Sherman to Brookston, and 20 miles from Texarkana to the west had been completed. The connecting link from Marshall to Texarkana was about halfway completed and a large trestle north of Jefferson had been washed away by a flood.

The resumption of construction saw much of the effort being focused on the Marshall to Dallas route. By this time the moneyed investors in Dallas, Fort Worth, and points west had persuaded the railroad officials to redesignate this as the main line of the railroad. The influence of capital assured that the Red River counties were to lose out on the benefits of a major coast to coast rail line.

The Marshall to Texarkana branch of 66.91 miles was completed by the end of January 1874 and by summer the main line had reached from Marshall to Dallas. Passengers to and from the east along the Red River were still forced to board and change from the El Paso Stage Line at Brookston.

The 8.78 miles from Brookston to Paris were finally completed in early 1875 more than a year after the work stopped. The connecting link from Paris to Texarkana, 90.44 miles, was finished in late 1876.

By this time the construction on the main branch was completed to Fort Worth where its citizens welcomed their first train on July 19, 1876. This event heralded the beginning of Fort Worth as the premier livestock center of the Southwest.

But before the railroad reached both Dallas and its neighbor to the west a little chicanery had to be perpetrated. In the original charter of the Southern Pacific, which the newly founded Texas and Pacific had purchased, the Texas Legislature had included a requirement that construction of the transcontinental line was not to be located above the 32nd degree of latitude. Later this was amended to require the line from Tyler to the Brazos River was not to vary from a straight line by more than five miles.

This seemingly innocuous requirement would have seen the rail line miss Dallas entirely. However a Dallas 
representative managed to slip through an innocent sounding amendment which simply stated that the crossing place of the Texas and Pacific Railway and the Houston and Texas Central would be within one mile of Browder's Springs.

Without bothering to ascertain the location of Browder's Springs, which was within the city limits of Dallas, the legislature passed the amendment and were in adjournment before the slick operations of the Dallas legislator were discovered.

There was still a snag in bringing the rail line into Fort Worth. About a year before the arrival in that city, the railroad company was short of capital even though they had begun to do a booming livestock business almost as soon as they arrived in Dallas. Land for maintaining the livestock business was in short supply in the Dallas vicinity and cattle bound for market from the western reaches of the state were forced to ford the Trinity River.

Finally the company was able to raise the necessary funds to construct a bridge across the Trinity and in a few weeks arrived in Fort Worth. In 1880 the "Transcontinental Line" was completed when the last link in that construction, from Sherman to Fort Worth, was finished.

In 1880 Jay Gould acquired control of the company by paying Colonel Thomas A. Scott $3,500,000 for his interest. In fact it was Gould who saw that the Sherman connection was completed.

With the infusion of fresh capital progress on the line with plans to reach 1200 miles to the Pacific Ocean at San Diego moved into high gear. Rapid progress took place at a pace not seen heretofore.

By early December,1880 construction had reached Baird, miles from Fort Worth. On April 28, 1881 construction was at Big Springs and on September 12th Toyah was reached. On December 1, 1881 the Texas and Pacific Railway reached from Marshall to Sierra Blanca.

Jay Gould had been in something of a race with C.P. Huntington over who was to be the first to complete a transcontinental line along the southern route. For reasons known to Gould he stopped construction at Sierra Blanca and agreed to connect there with Huntington's Southern Pacific lines into El Paso.

Gould also relinquished his property rights west of El Paso and further agreed to joint usage with the Southern Pacific between Sierra Blanca and El Paso. With the construction completed at this point, in 1882 the Texas and Pacific Railway had nine hundred and ninety-four miles of track stretching from the piney woods across the mid section of the state.

That same year a line from New Orleans to Shreveport was completed. From that point the company was content not to build additional trackage but opted instead to buy up short lines particular in the northwest section of the state.

Despite the failure to complete the actual construction of a transcontinental line, the Texas and Pacific served as an economic spur to those towns emerging from the ravages of the Reconstruction era.