Wednesday, March 16, 2011
This article by C. M. Hammond is entitled "How the Railroads Peopled Texas". See the links below for more articles on early railroading days in Texas.
BECAUSE OF its "detached and remote situation," President Houston urged the Sixth Congress of the Republic of Texas in 1842 to remove the State Capital from Austin to some point on the seaboard, giving as his reason, in addition to the constant danger from Mexican and Indian raiders, the fact that "during the last year, the expense of the Government for transportation to the City of Austin; over and above what is would have been to any point on the ace board, exceeded seventy thousand dollar." Austin, he considered, was entirely too deep in the interior and too far removed from the center of population to be the capital of the State, or to become anything but a small village. Yet, less than fifty years after President Houston made that statement, two rifles larger than Austin had sprung up in the wilderness almost two hundred miles farther from the seaboard. And less than sixty 'years afterwards, 43 per cent of all the people in the State were living within a radius of a hundred miles from •Dallas. Even such a dreamer as Sam Houston could not foresee the tremendous development That took place during those sixty years.
The History of those sixty years is a stirring epic of empire building, for it was during that period that the vast interior of the State was settled. and became one of the most productive and prosperous agricultural regions in the world There were, of course, other factors which played part in this magnificent drama of empire building, but by far the most important and the predominant role was played by the railroads. Other factors, such as the great. westward urge then sweeping the country and the fertility of the new lands, were all secondary and never exerted their influence until after the building of the railroads into each new section of the State.
In order to get an idea of the situation in Texas before the building of the railroads, let us go back to the year 1850. At that time practically all of the state's population was to be found in the counties along the Gulf coast re along the navigable portions of the Brazos, Trinity, Neches, Sabine, and Red Rivers. A few hardy pioneers had pushed farther into the interior, but their efforts to settle those sections met with discouragement, due to the lack of communications with the older sections and with the Gulf parts, Ox wagon trains offered the only means of transportation, and rates were so high that surplus crops could not be moved out nor needed supplies brought in except at exorbitailt. prices. These high casts of land transportation practically confined trade to those sections along tidewater and navigable, streams, and as a result most of the wealth of the State was concentrated along the Gulf Coast. Sixteen of the South Texas counties with access of water transportation had a combined assessed valuation in 1850 of $26,353,000, which was 51 per cent of the total for the State, while sixteen representative North Texas counties, including Dallas and Tarrant, had only $2,324,000 assessed valuation, or 4 per cent of the total.
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The first railroad built in Texas was the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos, and Colorado, on which construction started in 1851. The moving spirit behind this venture was General Sidney Sherman, and its object was to connect Harrisburg, at the head of navigation on. Buffalo Bayou, with Austin. According to C. S. Potts, Dean of the Southern Methodist School of Law, in his "Railroad Transportation in Texas," ten other railway building projects were started between 1851 and the outbreak of the Civil War. Most of these early lines had for their objects the connection of points along or near the seaboard, but one of them was the beginning of the Houston and Texas Central, the State's first great north- and-south artery, while two of them were later extended and merged to form the Texas & Pacific, the first connected line across the State from east to west. Up to the Civil War, 492 miles of railroads had been built, but only two lines extended as far as eighty miles from the seaboard—the H.&T.C. which terminated at Milbean, and the B.B.B.&C. which stopped at Alley-ton.
All railway building in the State stopped with the outbreak of hostilities between the States and remained dormant for about five years after the close of the war. Then, in 1870 the greatest period of railroad building in history of the State began, and during the two decades between 1870 and 1890 something like 8,000 miles, or almost half our present milage, was built. It was during that period of twenty years that the railroads pushed far into the interior and crossed the
State from both directions, and, significantly, it was also during those two decades that the tremendous development of the northern and central sections of the State took place.
The connection between this growth and the building of the railroads is graphically illustrated in the steady onward march from the Gulf to the Red River of the Houston and Texas Central, the first of the roads from the seaboard to reach the center of the State and to cross to its northern boundary.
Construction on the extension of that road from Millican, its northern terminal at the time, began in 1870, and in 1871 the line was completed to Corsicana. The census of 1870 shows the population of Corsicana was then only 80 people, but ten years after the railroad came the population had grown to 3,370, and by 1890 there were 6,285 people living in that city.
Pushing on, the road reached Dallas the following year and found there a village of considerably less than 5,000 inhabitants. The Texas & Pacific reached the town in 1873, and during the decade following the coming of the two roads, Dallas became a city of 10,358 inhabitants. During the next decade the M.K.&T. gave the city another ncrth-and-south line, and by 1890 Dallas had grown to 38,067 inhabitants to become the largest city in the State that year.
Fermi Dallas the H.&T.C. continued northward to reach Sherman and Denison in 1873, the year following the entry of the M.K.&T into Denison. As a result, Sherman grew from 1,439 population in 1870 to 6,093 in 1880 and to 7,335 in 1890, while Denison rose from practically nothing in 1870 to 3,975 in 1880 and to 10,958 in 1890, In the meantime, Waco was connected with the main line of the H.&T.C. by a branch line in 1871, and grew from a town of less than 4,000 in 1870 into o city of 7,296 people in 1880. The M.K.&T. reached the city in 1884, and Waco reported a population of 14,445 by 1890.
The Texas & Pacific also exerted a magic influence on the country through which it passed on its march across the State from east to west. The northern branch of the road from Texar: liana to Sherman connected Paris with those two points in 1876, and from a village of less than a hundred inhabitants Paris reached a population of 3,980 in 1880 and 8,254 in 1890.
The main line of the Texas & Pacific through Dallas was built into Fort Worth in 1876 and connected with El Paso six years later, in 1882. Fort Worth grew from nothing in 1870 to 6,663 in 1880 and to 23,076 in 1890. El Paso increased in population from 736 in 1880 to 10,338 in 1890.
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By 1877 the seven North Texas cities of DaIlas, Fort. Worth, Waco, Corsicana, Sherman, Denison, and Paris were connected by rail andlutd rail outlets to St. Louis on the north and to the Guff ports. As a consequence those seven cities which had a combined population of around 12,000 in, 1.870 reached a total of 41,734 by 1880, an increase of 247 per cent, and by 1890 the combined population had grown to 108,420, an iiierease for the decade of 170 per cent and by coming of the railroads those cities increased 800 per cent in population, while the increase for the State as a whole was only 173 per cent for the Same period.
The rate of growth of Dallas and Fort Worth by decades since 1880 shows a striking similarity to the com parative amount of railroad building during each decade. The decade between 1880 and 1890 was the most active decade of railway building in the history of the State, 5,895 miles have been constructed during the period. The increase in population of Dallas during that time amounted to 267 per cent and that of Fort Worth to 246 per cent. The next decade was a period of little activity in railway building, only 1,215 miles being built, and Dallas grew only 12 per cent and Fort Worth only 15 per cent during that period. The ten years between 1900 and 1910 was another decade of great activity in new railroad construction, 3,575 miles of new line being added, and during that period Dallas increased by 116 per cent, while Fort Worth increased by 174 per cent.
The growth and development of the territory surrounding Dallas and Fort Worth is an equally striking example of what the building of the railroads has meant to the State. In 1850- the territory within a radius of a hun.- cared miles of the sites of the two cities was little more than a dreary waste of wind-swept prairie inhabited by buffalos and wild Indians, while today, some sixty years after the coming of the railroads, one-third of all the inhabitants of Texas live within that area. And within that area is concentrate more than fifty-two per cent of the total wealth of the State. But that remarkable increase in wealth and population has not been at the expense of the older region along the seaboard, for there also the increase since 1870 has been enormous. And it is doubtful if there would have been any increase in that section to speak of had not the railroads opened up and provided connections with the vast interior of the State.
Since 1910, most of the new railroad construction in the State has been in the western and northwestern sections. The development through which those sections have passed and are passing due to the activities of the Santa Fe, the Texas & Pacific, and the Fort Worth and Denver, is equally as remarkable as that. which came to the central section in the closing decades of the last century.
Thus it is that the railroads have built a great empire in Texas—an empire undreamed of by President Hous ton as he addressed the Congress of Texas less than a century ago. The marvelous development which the state will celebrate on the centennial of its year of independence might have been brought about without the railroads although it is extremely doubtful, but the facts remain that. no other agency exerted so powerful an influence on that development, and that the growth of Texas in wealth and population is too closely intertivined and related to railway building in the State to admit of any doubt as to that being the prime and moving cause.
For more articles on this subject, see:
Early Railroading in Texas
The Race of the Railroads
First Railroads in Texas