The Rock Island Got Rocked, But “a Mighty Good Road” Rolled

In the late nineteenth century, as Fort Worth worked to become the railroad hub that B. B. Paddock had predicted in 1873, securing a railroad for a city was not always easy. A railroad was an economic boon to a city, and cities competed for railroad service then the way cities compete for corporate headquarters today.

For example, in 1887 as the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific railroad planned to expand south from Kansas into Texas, Fort Worth lobbied the railroad to lay track to Fort Worth. The railroad also was considering Cisco as an option, although Major Freeman of Wichita Falls opposed the Cisco route.

But as this 1888 map and 1889 newspaper article show, the Rock Island indeed chose Cisco. (Map from Gerald Hook via Dennis Hogan.)

But Fort Worth continued to lobby the railroad, convinced that Cowtown was a better choice than Cisco.

Finally, in 1892 the railroad announced that it was coming to Fort Worth, not Cisco. Cowtown had prevailed.

The Rock Island began service to Fort Worth south from Bowie on August 20, 1893.

Ah, but even then there was some last-minute drama at the Cowtown end of the track:

ri begins 8-20-93 dmnThe railroad needed right-of-way on Alex Canto’s land in the Third Ward east of downtown to build a wye junction (so-named for the junction’s y-shaped fork) so its engines could turn around.

Diagram of a wye junction from Wikimedia.

Without that wye injunction, the railroad claimed, its engines would have to go all the way to Bowie to turn around. Fort Worth’s right-of-way committee condemned the Canto land and offered Alex Canto a settlement. Canto rejected that amount and later rejected the amount suggested in arbitration. So, Canto’s fences were cut; workers began grading the right-of-way. Canto got an injunction to halt grading. He also hired a “burly Irish woman” to live in a tent and guard his property in his absence. When Chief Deputy Sheriff William Rea went out to the Canto land and informed the woman that the injunction against the railroad had been dissolved, she was ready to put the “rock” in “Rock Island”—literally. She picked up “a large rock” with both hands and offered to part the hair of the contractor who was overseeing the grading. Then a teenage boy got in on the “rock the Rock” action: He appeared on a rocky ledge and “stoned the men until threats of arrest stopped him.” Then Canto appeared with “a loaded shotgun.” To keep the peace, a deputy stayed overnight with the graders as they finished their work so the trains could roll the next day. Clip is from the August 20 Dallas Morning News.

ri august 25 93This ad ran in the Gazette the week that service to “Panther City” began and touted the comfort of the Rock Island coaches and the food served both on and off the trains en route to Chicago. Vestibuled cars, introduced in 1887, had enclosed ends instead of open platforms.

ri to dallas 11-30-03 telegramFast-forward ten years. Things went more smoothly when, on December 1, 1903, the Rock Island opened a track between Fort Worth and Dallas, and the railroad’s branch lines in Texas were consolidated under the umbrella name “Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf.” Note that among the stations between Fort Worth and Dallas were Hurst, Candon, and Irving. Even into the twentieth century the railroads were the godfather of many new towns in Texas. Clip is from the November 30 Telegram.

ri hurst 10-3-02 dmnAs in the case of Alex Canto, railroads had to secure rights-of-way from landowners to lay track between Fort Worth and Dallas. East of Fort Worth near present-day Highway 10 William Letchworth Hurst granted right-of-way to the Rock Island on his land. In return, when the Rock Island built a depot there, the company named it “Hurst Station.” The station grew into the city of Hurst.

Also note the name of cotton gin owner and former Sheriff Elisha Adam Euless, for whom that city is named. Clip is from the October 3, 1902 Dallas Morning News.

RI candon 2-3-4 tele“Buy some Texas dirt.” On February 3, 1904 the Telegram ran an ad for town lots for sale in Candon, “the new town on the Rock Island.”

Candon, south of Euless and north of Calloway Lake/Bird’s Fort, by 1906 had become the town of Tarrant, which merged with Euless.

The Rock Island station in Tarrant. (Photo from Tarrant County College, Northeast Campus, Heritage Room.)

ri irving 12-9-3 teleTo the east of Candon on the Rock Island line, lots were being sold at the new town of Irving. Note that J. A. H. Hosack was the auctioneer for both Candon and Irving. Clip is from the December 9, 1903 Telegram.

Not until 1906 would the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf railroad reach the gulf—at Galveston.

ri dallas 12-28-03 teleBecause the timing of the financial panic of 1873 was such that Dallas got the Texas & Pacific railroad that year but Fort Worth, just thirty miles away, had to wait another three years, the rivalry between Fort Worth and Dallas naturally extended to railroads. Soon after the Rock Island began running between the two cities in 1903, the Telegram on December 28 disputed the math that the Dallas Morning News used to determine how many daily passenger trains served  each city. By the Telegram’s math, Fort Worth had more daily passenger trains than any other city in Texas. Put that in your firebox and smoke it, Big D!

RI 1913 Tarrant County Road SystemThis 1913 county map shows the new railroad towns of Hurst and Tarrant (previously “Candon”) on the Rock Island line to Dallas. The map also shows the several other railroads serving Fort Worth. With nine years yet to live, B. B. Paddock had seen his 1873 tarantula map prediction come true. Along the railroads notice the names of towns or stations that are no more: Tarrant, Oak Grove, Brambleton, Hodge, Tremble, Moselle, Bethel, Bisbee, Britton, Plover, Primrose, Bransford, Smithfield. (Some of these towns and stations live on in the names of roads, such as Smithfield Road in North Richland Hills, Webb-Britton Road in Arlington, Bransford Road in Colleyville, and Winscott-Plover and Crowley-Plover roads in south Tarrant County.) Northwest of town the map also labels the “new reservoir” of Lake Worth. (Map from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

RI 26 sanbornThe Rock Island yard and shops, with roundhouse and turntable, were located east of Samuels Avenue and Pioneers Rest Cemetery and north of Pharr Street. Sanborn map is from 1926.

ri 52 aerialThe roundhouse and turntable could still be seen in a 1952 aerial photo. The turntable bridge is “pointed” at the semicircular roundhouse to the left. Pioneers Rest is in the lower left corner of the photo. The roundhouse and turntable were gone by 1956.

RI googleBut some maps still label the neighborhood “Rock Island.”

Like the Texas & Pacific and Fort Worth & Denver, the Rock Island lost passenger service in the 1960s.

The Rock Island line reached the end of its “mighty good road” on March 31, 1980.

In 1984 the cities of Fort Worth and Dallas bought the Rock Island track between the two cities.

Since 1996 the track has been used by the Trinity Railway Express. Here’s a one-minute YouTube video:

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14 Responses to The Rock Island Got Rocked, But “a Mighty Good Road” Rolled

  1. Jim Pitts says:

    Thanks, Mike. I just discovered your links to a rich trove of Fort Worth history.

  2. Jim Pitts says:

    It’s almost lost in the story that the Texas & Pacific was Fort Worth’s first railroad, right?

    • hometown says:

      Yeah, there’s just a link to the post about the T&P coming to town in 1876 and a link to a page of posts about the railroads in Fort Worth history.

  3. Speaking of the Tarantula Map, and the Cotton Belt line with the ‘Smithfield’ town and station, which no longer exists….
    When we first moved here to NRH in 1971, our mail address was ‘Smithfield’, ‘76080’. The Smithfield community actually still had a Post Office and did for a few years after that. A cubbyhole in a small building that still exists. (Then a new PO was built on Bedford Rd and our address became ‘Ft. Worth’ ‘76180’. It was not until the PO was moved to the present building on Davis Blvd that my address became ‘North Richland Hills’ 76180.)

    But Smithfield will soon be back on the RR Maps as they are presently in the process of building a new station for the new TEXrail express trains to the airport, and with its own siding trackage.

    S, Alas…..The “Smithfield Station” will soon be reborn!!!

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Paul. I am on the TEXrail updates mailing list. I just regret that the powers-that-be dropped plans for a station on Granbury Road in southwest Fort Worth. Would have been in cycling distance of me. My first job in journalism was with Mid-Cities Daily News, which covered the Smithfield area.

  4. Dennis Hogan says:

    Besides its own passenger trains between Ft. Worth and Dallas, the Rock Island hosted trains of the Ft. Worth & Denver (after 1925) and even a few Southern Pacific trains in the mid-1920s. Also after the Rock Island extended a line from Irving up to Carrollton in 1909, it was leased to the Frisco whose trains then plied between Dallas and Ft. Worth over the Rock Island (CRI&G).

    • hometown says:

      Thanks for that information, Dennis. I have given up trying to keep straight which railroads ran on whose tracks and which railroad ate which other railroad, name permutations, etc. over the years. One of the most complicated aspects of Fort Worth history. All I know for sure is that
      the engineer said before he died
      There were two more drinks that he’d like to try
      The conductor said what could they be
      A hot cup of coffee and a cold glass of tea.

  5. Danielle Slater says:

    If you ever get the chance to ride your bike down by the Southwest side, do you think you can do a piece on Vieux Coulee (Formerly Churchill Park)?

  6. A. Winkler says:

    I am a Rock Island follower from Kansas and I enjoyed very much this historical account of the Rock Island coming to Ft. Worth and Dallas, TX.

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