Railroad Depot Important to Early Rail Development
Bonham Daily Favorite, October 31, 1993
The key bargaining chip between various Texas towns and the officials of railroads which were constructed in the latter part of the nineteenth century seems to have been the phrase "a suitable passenger and freight depot." Paramount to the various subsidies and donations of land was the insistence on a landmark type structure for each of the towns along the railroad right of ways.
Fannin County was no different than any other Texas community for in the various deeds of land donations to the Texas and Pacific Railway are to be found similar phrases requiring the rail company to construct and maintain such structures. In fact, in some deeds it is clearly stated than in the event the railroad failed to live up to these requirements, the land assignments would revert to the ownership of the donating entity.
As the Texas and Pacific line progress eastward from Sherman in the autumn and winter of 1872 - 73 depot construction must have begun in advance of the arrival of the construction crews. In period editions of The Bonham News are references to the depot such as the advertisement for a menagerie show "down at the depot, the sidewalk leading to the depot," and various advertisements for businesses who sited their location as "near the depot."
Little specific information concerning Bonham's first depot is available. Texas and Pacific records from that time period are no longer extant, nor or there any known photographs. The information that does exist comes from a brief description attached to an insurance map from the Sanborn Insurance Map Collection.
This map shows the building to have been a rectangular wooden structure with a wood shingle roof. Dimensions were approximately 40 feet by 75 feet situated on the west end of the lot that paralleled the tracks between Center and Main Streets. A large open air platform partially covered by a roof extended from the building.
The building served as both a passenger and freight depot with only one wall to separate the freight area from the passenger waiting room. It also appears that there was not a separate ticket office only a counter at the west end of the room. By the mid 1880's several large platforms were constructed across the tracks from the depot and were designated as cotton shipping areas.
By the latter part of the 1090's the Bonham citizens felt that the small wooden building was no longer adequate for a city the size of Bonham so an appeal was made to the railroad officials for a new facility. Again no records exist to show how or when construction was actually started and completed, but by 1900 Bonham had a new and larger brick depot.
A brief description of the building is contained within the inventory files of the Texas and Pacific now located at Union Pacific Railroad headguarters in Omaha, Nebraska: "Originally constructed in 1900 at a cost of $33,731, a one story brick combination passenger and freight building. It is 49 feet wide, 214 feet long, and sixteen feet six inches high."
The original cost includes the building and all the interior furniture and equipment, a platform and a park on the west end where six trees, roses, and other flowers were planted. There was a fence around the park made of old boiler tubes. Interestingly there is no mention of the tower. Other records do mention the plans for the tower which was to serve as the signal point for all trains east and west. However, before construction was finished on the building, the trackside semaphore was developed and improved and the tower was never utilized.
Disaster struck on the night of February 17, 1918. About 9:45 a porter ran to the ticket office where Agent Wilbur Dearing was working and told him that the freight office was burning. Mr. Dearing ran to the east end of the building and opened the door between the weighing station and the freight warehouse. He found the interior completely engulfed in flames.
Mr. Dearing ran back to the office to turn in the alarm and found that flames were already eating through the ceiling. The alarm brought the fire department in a short time and four hoses were laid to fight the blaze. Because the wind was from the east, the flames were soon driven toward the passenger and office areas.
After the arrival of the fire company the roof of the freight area collapsed injuring firemen Sim Smith and John McNew, and Fire Chief A.J. Stephenson. No reason for the fire was ever established. The freight section of the depot was completely destroyed and the passenger and office area heavily damaged.
Before the ashes had cooled there were calls for the immediate replacement for the building which to serve as a union depot for passengers on both the T & P line as well as the M.K.T. passengers. The M.K.T. depot was a small wooden structure to the northwest and was originally constructed by the Denison, Bonham, and New Orleans Railroad before its takeover by the M.K.T. In the March 15, 1918 edition of The Bonham News it was reported that the Texas Railroad Commission had ordered the officials of both companies to construct a union depot.
For some reason the two rail lines never came to an agreement and by October it was reported that the Texas and Pacific had started construction and restoration on its depot.
The restored structure opened on March 7, 1919. A.R. Heffner, agent for the rail company took a reporter from The Fannin County Favorite on a tour of the new facility a few days before the official opening. He reported that Agent Heffner was as "tickled over his new depot as a boy would be in anticipating ownership of a red wagon."
The reporter also gave his readers a preview of the building. "White ceiling lights, both in the corridors and the waiting room proper. Ceiling fans. Three fire plugs. The railroad is taking no more chances with fire. More seats in the waiting room. Other things such as up-to-date plumbing . . . rest room with toilet for the ladies and smoking room with toilet for gentlemen. The colored population is amply taken care of as to a waiting room with accessories."
Total cost of the restoration was $39,200. A warehouse room scale was added at a cost of $34,000 and a bricked parking area was constructed on the north side of the building.
The depot continued to serve the people of Bonham and Fannin County until July 6, 1950 when the last passenger train, No. 31 made its final run on the Transcontinental Line.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas