When the Railroads Came to Hopkins County
By Thomas J. Minter
When the 1870’s rolled around Jefferson, Texas, had been a port city since 1844. It was second only to Galveston. From it supplies moved over the Jefferson Wagon Road, and its branches, to the settlements in the interior of Texas. And from these same settlements, raw materials and goods were hauled to Jefferson to be shipped out. This was truly the “mother road” of its time.
But in the early 1870s some business men in Jefferson began to worry about the threat of the railroads which were being planned and built. The fear was Jefferson may be bypassed in an economic sense.
In an effort to protect the town’s trade area, the concerned businessmen decided to build their own railroad. It was to do for them what the Jefferson Wagon Road had done for them in the past—transport and distribute commodities. To this end, they formed the East Line and Red River Railroad Company to promote their efforts.1
The company was chartered on March 22, 1871 for a railroad to run from Jefferson to Sherman, and from there to the western boundary of Texas. The route was somewhat vague and seemed to depend on the financial incentives offered by towns along the way.²
The charter was amended twice, in 1873 to change the route to run via Greenville and 1875 to again run via Sherman. Construction finally began on the Line in 1876.3 It was a narrow gauge railroad, which was cheaper to build and equip than a standard gauge. Convict labor4 was used, for at the time it could be leased from the prisons. From Jefferson going west the line reached Hickory Hill, some twenty miles distance, on December 5th. On July 4, 1877, it reached Daingerfield, and then Leesburg in 1878. It entered Hopkins County in its southeastern corner. When it reached what is now Pickton in 1879, the people of the area were asked to pick a name for the town as it would have a station. A committee chose “Pick Town.” The railroad shortened this to “Pickton.”5 The track reached Sulphur Springs in that same year of 1879. It arrived at Greenville, 124 miles from Jefferson, in late 1880s. The railroad was acquired by Jay Gould, a railroad developer and speculator, in June of 1881, who sold it to Missouri Kansas Texas Railway Company (MKT) on November 28, 1881.6 This railroad was popularly known as the “Katy,” derived from its stock symbol of K-T. The Katy line was from Missouri and Kansas, and was constructed through Oklahoma Indian Territory paralleling close to the old Texas Road and the Shawnee Cattle Trial. It reached the Red River in 1872 bound for Denison, Texas. Having picked up where East Line and Red River Railroad had been built to Greenville, Texas, in May 1882 the thirty-one mile extension from Greenville to McKinney was completed by Katy. In 1892 at considerable expense Katy converted the narrow gauge tracks and equipment of the former East Line and Red River Railroad to standard gauge.7 The advantage of this conversion meant interchangeability, where the equipment of other railroads could use the tracks and exchange equipment. Five years earlier in 1887, the St. Louis Southwestern Railway (SSW) laid its tracks through Hopkins County, entering just west of Mt. Vernon and leaving the county near Commerce to the west. This railroad known by the nickname of “Cotton Belt Route” was 1542 mile railroad, originating at St. Louis Missouri, with its western terminus at Gatesville, Texas, south of Dallas, Texas. The railroad was joined in Arkansas by a track to Memphis, Tennessee. The Texas trackage was 803 miles. The company located its repair shops in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.8 For the railroad to operate in Texas, it had to have a separate charter, which was St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company of Texas. The business offices were located in Tyler, Texas, which was located on the main line from Mt. Pleasant to Gatesville to the west. The Cotton Belt Route was of standard gauge9 and was a single track system. The construction of the Cotton Belt through Hopkins County entailed several accommodations. The line bypassed the town of Saltillo near the county line. Thus, a grocery store and the post office moved 1 ½ miles north to be on the railroad. The new town near the railroad was at first referred to as "Switch," then later as Saltillo. The bypassed town took on the name of Old Saltillo, and still is referred to as such today.10 A couple miles on west of Saltillo, a town was spawned on the railroad called "Evans Point," which straddled the tracks. The town was named after the Evans family who lived in a point of the woods near the railroad. Evans Point became extinct in the 1930s.11
Going on a few more miles to the west, another town was established with a station called "Weaver," which resulted from the line bypassing White Oak Junction a few miles on west, which had been a prominent place on the Jefferson Wagon Road. The White Oak Junction post office was moved to Weaver. The railroad first wanted to name the the town "Dupree" after some prominent first settlers. But the family objected, and it was named Weaver after the first sheriff of the County.1²
Southeast of Sulphur Springs near the Katy Railroad was a community causally called "Crush," which was named after a big rock crusher it had which produced aggregate for the railroads. In 1900 Crush got a more formal name of "Thermo."13
The town of Ridgeway, 15 miles west of Sulphur Springs was a result of a store being located there to accommodate workers on the Cotton Belt Route in 1888.14 The railroads heralded better economic times for the citizens of Hopkins County, as the area had been slow in recovering from the effects of the Civil War. Saltillo at the eastern edge of the county was an important shipping point for fruit and melons, with seventy-five to one hundred cars of these being shipped each season. Poultry, rabbits, and nursery stock were also shipped from Saltillo.15 Produce that was perishable was packed in barrels with ice. It is said that Pickton was once a large shipping center for Elberta peaches, with as many as seventeen cars of them being loaded in one day.16 Records show for 1925 that 730 railroad cars of peaches, berries, and potatoes and 300 cars of poultry and dairy by-products being shipped from the county.17
Not only did the railroads stimulate economic development in trade, but the Cotton Belt Route in particular was the biggest taxpayer in the county, which aided government and schools.18
The Cotton Belt Route gave its freight service the title of “Blue Streak,” and advertised its trains as being “on time . . . all the time.” It took a freight train 55 hours, including its stops to make it from St. Louis to the end of the line at Gatesville, Texas. Although the railroads in Hopkins County did not pass through every town, they had close proximity to them. Residents of Pine Forest, for example, could travel south to the Katy line at Pickton, some six miles distance. Or they could travel north four and half miles and reach the Cotton Belt Route depot at Weaver. Although it was reported that Katy at Pickton did not always provide passenger service. The closest the Katy and Cotton Belt tracks came to each other in Hopkins county was in Sulphur Springs, the county seat. They actually crossed each other in neighboring Hunt County at Greenville.
Both Katy and the Cotton Belt had named passenger train service. The Cotton Belt operated passenger service from St. Louis to Texas points and from Memphis to Shreveport and Dallas. Cotton Belt's Lone Star operated from Memphis Union Station to Dallas Union Terminal with a branch from Lewisville, Arkansas to Shreveport, Louisiana. The Morning Star was the second named train over much of this route, operating out of St. Louis Union Station.19
The Katy railroad operated several named passenger trains. The Texas Special (trains 1 & 2), Katy Limited (trains 3 & 4), Katy Flyer (trains 5 & 6), and the Bluebonnet (trains 7 & 8).20 As in many decades later when people would stop what they were doing and look up into the sky and marvel at an airplane flying overhead, people were equally fascinated with trains when they came into their own. If they were near a track or depot when one was in the vicinity, they moved closer to take in the scene. And so it was in Hopkins County.
Note: The writer visited the Pine Bluff, AR, railroad museum in 2010, which has rolling stock for viewing as well as many displays of Cotton Belt Route memorabilia. Well worth the trip.
He also visited Jefferson, TX, in 2009 where Jay Gould’s personal railcar is on display.
Many times he has passed through East St. Louis, where the Cotton Belt Railroad’s marshalling yards were located. These yards, still being used by railroads, are still called “Cotton Belt Rail Yards,” although the railroad no longer exists.
He has also visited Union Station in St. Louis’s where there were tracks under roof for 31 trains to take on passengers, and where the Cotton Belt passenger trains went forth. In its heyday, this terminal served 22 railroads. St. Louis is also the location of the Cotton Belt Railroad’s freight depot, which although decrepit and defaced with vandals’ graffiti, still defiantly stands today.
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1. George C. Werner, "East Line and Red River Railroad," Handbook of Texas Online. http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/eqe01), accessed March 21, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
4. Orren, G. G., “History of Hopkins County,” East Texas State Teachers College, Master of Arts Thesis, 1938. p. 131.
5. Christopher Long, "Pickton, TX," Handbook of Texas Online http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hnp28), accessed March 20, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association
6. Donovan L. Hofsommer, "Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/eqm08), accessed March 30, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association
8. Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=5104
10. J. E. Jennings, "Saltillo, TX," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/ handbook/online/articles/hls07), accessed March 30, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
11. Christopher Long, "Evans Point, TX," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hve37), accessed March 21, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
12. “History of Weaver,” http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~txhopkin/gen/resources/histories/community/weaver.html
13. Christopher Long, "Thermo, TX," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hrt16), accessed March 29, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
15. Orren, p. 93.
16. Ibid., p. 96-7.
17. Bob and Michelle Gilbert, "Hopkins County," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hch18), accessed March 29, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
18. Orren, p. 131.
George C. Werner, "St. Louis Southwestern Railway," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/eqs27), accessed March 21, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
19. “Cotton Belt Passenger Service,” http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/St._Louis_Southwestern_Railway
20. “Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missouri%E2%80%93Kansas%E2%80%93Texas_Railroad