“All Aboard the ‘Live Wire Way’! Next Stop: Cleburne”

Before Fort Worth had the T and the TRE, it had the I: the interurban. Most folks know of Northern Texas Traction Company’s interurban line that ran between Fort Worth and Dallas from 1902 to 1934.

But on September 1, 1912 the Fort Worth Southern Traction Company began providing interurban service to Cleburne. Cars left both cities hourly from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. For Cleburne merrymakers, there was a late car from Fort Worth at 11 p.m. Imagine how dark that route between the two cities must have been at that hour in 1912. Clip is from the September 1 Star-Telegram.

cleburne city spreadEven in 1912 the line between news and advertising could be narrow gauge. The Star-Telegram of September 1 devoted two full pages to the new service to Cleburne and to the amenities of the city itself. The bottom page has photos of one of the power substations, the passenger stations at Oak Lawn, Joshua, and Burleson, and the bridge over Deer Creek in far south Tarrant County.

cleburne 9-1-12 stThere was also a full page of ads for businesses and subdivisions (Oak Lawn Place, Burch-Hill Addition) located along the “electric lines.”

Imagine what an advance this early form of intercity mass transit was in a time when most people did not own a car, when thirty miles was a major trip, and when sixty miles an hour was warp speed. Suddenly people could cheaply and quickly (in 1912 terms) travel between Fort Worth and Cleburne. Via connections in Dallas, Cleburne residents could go to Denison and Waco and Corsicana.

The Cleburne interurban even ran special trains for events such as concerts and ball games.

NTT ~ Camp Bowie ~ 19171211After America entered World War I and Camp Bowie opened, “soldier boys” were invited to ride the interurban lines to Dallas and to Cleburne and to enjoy Lake Erie trolley park. (Photo from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

cleburne hedgerowThe track to Cleburne branched off Northern Texas Traction Company’s Dallas-Fort Worth interurban line at about Lancaster and Grafton streets on the East Side, passing under the Texas & Pacific tracks (top of photo) and running southeast. I suspect that the western edge (hedgerow running southeast in photo) of the Sycamore golf course follows the Cleburne interurban right-of-way.

cleburne aerial utaThis aerial photo from the 1930s shows the Cleburne track curving away from the Fort Worth-Dallas track along Lancaster Avenue two blocks east of Riverside Drive and passing under the Texas & Pacific tracks just north of today’s Sycamore Creek Golf Course. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Library.)

trestle interurbanNext the track ran through Sycamore Park. The narrow iron bridge that carried the track over Sycamore Creek still stands. The bridge resembles the Deer Creek bridge in the 1912 photo above. In the last half of the twentieth century many an East Sider walked over this bridge without knowing its history, probably assuming (as I did) that the bridge was put there for the benefit of pedestrians.

cleburne 1925 FW City~CH Rogers1This 1925 Rogers map detail reveals a lot. The city of Polytechnic‘s waterworks was on the east side of Sycamore Park. A water well of the city of Polytechnic was located near today’s D. McRae Elementary School. Bowman Springs Road, now Burchill Road (named for Postmistress Belle Burchill, who developed the Burch-Hill subdivision), was named for the family of “12th Street Rag” composer Euday Bowman, whose family had farmed southeast of Fort Worth. Bowman Springs Road still exists in south Arlington.

South of Sycamore Park the track followed the route of today’s Mitchell Boulevard, which in the late 1930s would be built on the old interurban right-of-way. Even in 1925 the Cleburne line ran through some of that “beautiful country” touted in the ad as the line ran south of Bowman Springs Road. The first stop on the line was View Point near Burton Street. Then came stops at Masonic Home and Glen Garden Country Club. Just below Masonic Home the track veered due south and ran alongside Wichita Street (Jackson Street then) with a stop at Oak Lawn (near today’s Oak Lawn Elementary School). There was not another stop until the line was just south of the Mansfield Pike (today’s Business 287) and the Houston & Texas Central railroad crossing: the Forest Hill stop. Note the Cobb brick plant west of Cobb Park. (Map detail from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

cleburne full route annotations2

After the interurban track crossed the Houston & Texas Central tracks, it veered to the southwest and then crossed the International & Great Northern tracks. The yellow line shows the stretch of the interurban track shown in the 1925 Rogers map above. (Map detail from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

The Cleburne track crossed several more creeks past Sycamore Creek. Just as with Sycamore Creek, bridges had to be built. Now, of course, all that track, all those bridges are gone.
Almost.
A half-mile south of where the International & Great Northern track crossed Wichita Street and the interurban track, the interurban track crossed an unnamed tributary of Village Creek. Paul Valentine, who told me that he remembered seeing years ago what apparently had once been a rail roadbed along Wichita Street, poked around in the brush at that creek and found the concrete piers of the interurban bridge. The piers have been hunkering there since 1931 as the world passed by on Wichita Street seventy-five feet away.
Before I went out to see this archeological discovery I studied a 1952 aerial photo and saw that there might have been an interurban bridge over another creek 1.3 miles north of the piers that Paul found.
Sure enough, concrete piers of two interurban bridges survive along Wichita Street. But much more of Paul’s bridge—the south bridge—survives. Three of its five concrete piers—the two end piers and one inside pier—still stand. The other two have fallen and are broken. Of the north bridge only a few remnants of the piers can be seen.

north bridge with ROW googleThe north bridge was near today’s Valley Forge Trail. The interurban’s right-of-way along Wichita Street was about 150 feet wide. Much of that right-of-way has been developed or overgrown with brush, but open right-of-way still exists between Wichita Court and Joel East Road. In this aerial photo you can see a row of trees along the western edge of the right-of-way. The interurban track ran about midway between Wichita Street and that row of trees. The overhead power lines that today run along the right-of-way are to the west of the interurban roadbed.

north pierThe remains of the concrete piers of the north bridge are mostly buried.

north bolt tapeAn anchor bolt in a pier of the north bridge.

north wooden tieA hefty wooden beam (a rail tie?) survives parallel to the pier remnants of the north bridge.

south bridge google aerial piersThe south bridge was two blocks north of today’s Trammell Avenue opposite an Everman city park.

south bridge 52 detailAn aerial photo from 1952—twenty-one years after the Cleburne interurban shut down—shows the creek and the five concrete piers of the south bridge.

south piers google aerialIn a contemporary aerial photo the two end piers can be seen to the left of the yellow lines.

roadbed from topIf you are willing to tangle with inhospitable barbed wire and ornery mesquite trees, the elevated roadbed that the interurban track ran atop can easily be found in the stretch of the right-of-way that has reverted to brush. No elevated roadbed survives where the right-of-way is cleared.

roadbed tapeThe roadbed is about four feet higher than the surrounding terrain.

south piers 2Trolleyhenge: An inside pier (left) and an end pier (right) of the south bridge. Two anchor bolts can be seen on the end pier. Part of another pier lies in the water beyond.

cleburne damPast the end of Wichita Street at Enon Road the interurban track ran virtually straight—through open country—into Burleson, then on to Joshua and Cleburne. Just north of East Oak Grove Road is a stock tank whose dam lines up perfectly with the line of the interurban roadbed. I suspect that after the Cleburne interurban shut down, some farmer got the clever idea of using the elevated roadbed as a ready-made earthen dam. I have stitched together some aerial photos to show the line of the track from north of Enon Road. The tank has been there since at least 1952.

Farther south, this 1999 aerial photo of the Oak Grove Airport area south of FM 1187 shows a substation of the Cleburne line and even a stretch of right-of-way of the track running southwest toward Burleson. The substation has since been demolished, not a brick of its history preserved.

In Burleson the visitors center has on display interurban car 330 (built in 1902). The center is the old Burleson interurban depot.

Burleson druggist Albert Loyless was the local representative of the interurban. The depot building also housed his pharmacy and soda fountain.

In Cleburne the depot was half a block south of the courthouse.

wrightThe A. J. Wright Building now houses Cowan Costumes, Inc. Wendy Pierce, Cowan sales and marketing coordinator, said, “You can still see some of the train track in the alley beside our building where they have laid the road on top of it.”

At its peak, interurban service had five hundred miles of track in Texas. Other lines connected Fort Worth and Dallas with Waco, Corsicana, Waxahachie, Terrell, and Denton. But the Depression and the increasing availability of automobiles and buses caused a decline in interurban ridership.

cleburne interurban 1931After nineteen years and eight million passengers, service to Cleburne was ended in 1931. Northern Texas Traction Company, which had taken over the Cleburne line, operated the Cleburne track only to the Forest Hill stop. By 1934 the NTTC interurban system was operating at a loss and closed.

End of the line.

(Thanks to Paul Valentine for his tip on the bridge piers.)

This entry was posted in East Side, Life in the Past Lane, Rails 'n' Roundhouses. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to “All Aboard the ‘Live Wire Way’! Next Stop: Cleburne”

  1. Mollie Mims says:

    Hello from Cleburne. I am interested in getting a copy of the Star Telegram newspaper page about the interurban and information on Cleburne. Is it available from the Star Telegram, or do you have a scan? I’m always researching about Johnson County! Have you ever heard of Chase Park – it was near the Interurban line north of Cleburne.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *