“All Aboard TEXRail. Next Stop: Yesteryear” (Part 1)

Today is the fourth anniversary of the inauguration of TEXRail service.

When you ride a TEXRail train from the Texas & Pacific passenger station to DFW Airport there’s plenty of history to be seen along the twenty-seven-mile route. Climb aboard for a virtual tour.

Mile 0. Before the train even leaves the station, there’s history just outside your coach window on the left: the art deco T&P passenger depot designed by Wyatt Hedrick. The depot opened in 1931 as part of T&P’s transformation of the south end of downtown. T&P built a new passenger depot and a new freight depot, and the city and T&P built underpasses at Jennings, Henderson, and Main streets.

Mile .1. In fact, as soon as the TEXRail train glides out of the T&P station it passes over the Main Street overpass, where in 1933 the gang of O. D. Stevens hid before ambushing two Railway Mail Service employees and taking $71,000 ($1.2 million today) in cash.

.1. As the train curves from east to north, on your left is the monument to Al Hayne, the only fatality of the Spring Palace fire of 1890. The Spring Palace stood about where the T&P station stands today.

.1. Also on your left at the corner of Main and Lancaster streets is the lot where once stood first Texas & Pacific’s 1899 passenger station and later the Frank Kent car dealership.

.1. On your right on West Vickery Boulevard is the 1909 freight depot of the Katy railroad. The building survived the South Side fire of 1909.

.1. On your right, in the middle of the I-30-I-35 mixmaster, is Tower 55, one of the busiest railroad intersections in the country. (The red brick tower that gave Tower 55 its name has been demolished.)

.3. Now we pass through an area that reminds us that for decades Fort Worth was a railroad hub. Downtown was bounded on the southeast by the switchyards of two railroads: Santa Fe and Fort Worth & Denver. In 1913 it was into this maze of roundhouses, turntables, tracks, locomotives, and boxcars that gambler Tom Lee fled after killing a fellow gambler and a police officer in Hell’s Half Acre.

Today the roundhouses and turntables are gone, but a dozen or so tracks still weave through the area, carrying TEXRail, Trinity Railway Express, Amtrak, Fort Worth & Western, BNSF, and Union Pacific.

Indeed, the first six miles of TEXRail’s route from the T&P station are rich in Fort Worth’s railroad past and present. In those six miles the train passes the facilities of Texas & Pacific, Santa Fe, Fort Worth & Denver, St. Louis Southwestern (Cotton Belt), Rock Island, and Fort Worth & Western.

.4. On your left is the 1899 Union Depot, which was used by the Santa Fe and Houston & Texas Central railroads.

.4. Also on your left next to the Union Depot is the 1938 Santa Fe freight depot.

.6. The train’s first stop is Central Station (formerly “Intermodal Transportation Center”). Inside hang light fixtures from the 1939 art deco public library.

Central Station was built on the site of Texas Brewing Company (1890) and the Masonic Temple Building (1907), built by William “Gooseneck Bill” McDonald when the eastern edge of downtown was the center of African-American life during segregation.

The lodge building and McDonald are included in a mural depicting African-American history in Fort Worth by artist Paula Blincoe Collins. The mural is on an outside wall of Central Station.

Central Station also has on display motorcar no. 25 of Northern Texas Traction Company.

.8. As the train crosses East 8th Street, on your left the big red building (1910) once housed the wholesale hardware company of Charles E. Nash.

.8. And on your right down East 8th Street is the building that housed King Candy Company.

.8. On your right just beyond the King building, at East 9th and Harding streets, are two buildings (1908) that were part of the Bewley mill.

.8. Straight ahead we see the . . . duck! . . . The train just passed through the Hunt-Hawes Building at 508 East 7th Street.

The building was built in 1911 to house the Hunt-Hawes Grocery Company. The building shares a wall with the first Montgomery Ward building (1911) in town.

The tunnel we just passed through represents one of Fort Worth’s more ingenious acts of preservation. By 1998 the building housed Roger Williams’s alarm company. When the building was determined to be in the path of the tracks of the planned Trinity Railway Express, Williams sold the building to the transit authority. Rather than demolish the building, the transit authority built a tunnel through it for two tracks of rail.

.8. On your left at 415 East 6th Street is the former lodge hall of the African-American Grand United Order of Odd Fellows.

.8. On your left at 600 Grove Street is Mount Gilead Baptist Church (Sanguinet and Staats, 1912), another surviving building of the African-American downtown.

.9. On your left as the track curves from north to east, another railroad relic is obscured by Spur 280. The freight office (1915) of the St. Louis Southwestern railroad (Cotton Belt) is now the office of the Cotton Belt Apartments.

These aerial photos show the long Cotton Belt freight depot stretching behind the office building. The Cotton Belt apartments were built on the site of the depot.

Much of the track that TEXRail operates on originally was the Cotton Belt track, now owned by DART.

1.0. On your right as the train rolls under Spur 280 and curves from east to north there is a creek that has survived all of Fort Worth history despite now being boxed in on all sides by the concrete abutments and piers of freeways, railroads, and bridges. It’s Ham Branch creek. In 1880 Isom Capps was publically executed by hanging on a gallows erected near where the Santa Fe railroad trestle would later cross the creek.

1.4. On your right is the Ralston Purina mill.

The mill was built in 1917.

2.0. Now the train is moving through the site of the Rock Island railroad switchyard. The roundhouse and turntable were five blocks north of Belknap Street. The neighborhood is still labeled “Rock Island” on some maps.

As the train travels north, on your left, beyond a six hundred-foot swath of railroad tracks, is still more history along Samuels Avenue:

2.0. Pioneers Rest Cemetery.

2.2. The train passes over Cold Springs Road, so-named for a spring that sustained early settlers.

2.4. On your right, where today is a county jail facility (note the vegetable garden), once stood Fort Worth’s first driving park.

2.4. On your left, just west of the driving park was Rosedale Pavilion, Fort Worth’s first trolley park.

At this point let’s ask the TEXRail engineer to hit the “pause” button. We’ll roll on with Part 2:

“All Aboard TEXRail. Next Stop: Yesteryear” (Part 2)

Posts About Trains and Trolleys


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4 Responses to “All Aboard TEXRail. Next Stop: Yesteryear” (Part 1)

  1. William J. Neill says:

    Very nice travelogue. I worked as a telegrapher for the M-K-T RR at Ney Yard in Nov. and Dec., 1965, and Jan., 1966, and knew Fort Worth RR locations very well then but, as the old adage. states, “you can never go home again”. I recognize Tower 55 which I once knew as “Fort Worth Tower” and the former GC&SF Northern Division HQ Building adjacent to the depot at 14th and Jones Streets as well as the T&P office building but little else is conspicuous to me. I have many color slides of RR operations between Peach and Tower 55 and in the vicinity of Tower 55 taken during those months.

  2. Jim says:

    Wow that is a huge amount of History in just a short distance,I work at Penske Andy never knew we were so close to this history,is there any evidence of the driving park left

    • hometown says:

      Jim, not a trace that I know of. The county jail facility, the railroads, the big UPS facility, etc. cover the area. Best I can think of: A few houses on Pavilion Street were built with lumber from the pavilion that was next to the driving park.

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