By Pete Kendall
Hood County News – October 15, 2003
CRESSON – Long before business and industry leaders coined the term economic upturn, Granbury heavy hitters experienced earth-shattering economic boom.
The year was 1887, when the Fort Worth & Rio Grande Railway chugged out of Fort Worth and into the Hood County seat, and the Santa Fe steamed out of Cleburne and into Weatherford.
The two rail magnates met, though not at precisely the same moment, in Cresson, just about the biggest little town in America then and for many generations thereafter.
Cresson was a livestock and agriculture mecca with cotton, asparagus, livestock and other precious commodities loaded from private sidings daily.
Surrounding Hood County earned rich dividends. It generated the majority of the exports.
Cresson was important in and of itself in those bountiful days, but it was most important because of the communities it linked … Granbury, Fort Worth, Weatherford, Cleburne and the great wide world beyond.
The Fort Worth & Rio Grande ran northeast from Granbury to Fort Worth and, by 1889, southwest as far as Menard near San Angelo.
The FWRG connected at Cresson with the Santa Fe for the short hops to Weatherford and Cleburne.
From Weatherford, the Texas & Pacific could take you to Abilene and El Paso.
From Cleburne, the Santa Fe could take you to Temple and Galveston, the Katy to Waco and Austin, and the Trinity & Brazos Valley to Hubbard and Coolidge.
If you lived in Granbury at the turn of the 20th century, you were as familiar with Cresson as with your back yard.
Cresson is still a rail springboard to the universe but only in three directions.
You can go southwest to Granbury and northeast to Fort Worth. Santa Fe purchased the Fort Worth & Rio Grande from the Frisco in 1937. The Fort Worth & Western traverses it now.
You can still hang a right at Cresson and go to Cleburne by rail, but few exercise that circuitous option. The weeds outnumber the railroad ties.
If you want to go from Granbury to Weatherford by way of Cresson, best to take a car. The Weatherford-Cresson line is gone with the wind.
Santa Fe abandoned that once-proud 19.97 miles of track in 1959. Nostalgia buffs will note the plainly visible rail embankment, atop which cows pause to catch a breeze from locomotive ghosts.
Helen Long, a Cresson resident since 1953, vividly recalls the criss-crossing Santa Fe routes and station northeast of the stop light.
“I remember the passenger trains, but I don’t think many passengers got off here,” she said. “This was mainly a freight stop.
“Cresson had two depots originally. There was one when I got here. Parson’s Switch, about eight miles west of Cresson, was another stop. It had livestock pens.”
According to Charles P. Zlatkovich’s authoritative book “Texas Railroads,” Santa Fe also abandoned 1.0 mile of track between Cresson and Cleburne in 1961.
The exact location of that miracle mile is a mystery. North Texas railroad history is often as complicated as it is fascinating.
For certain, we know the FWRG christened its 40-mile Fort Worth to Granbury route in 1887 and that Santa Fe opened its 41.73-mile Cleburne-Weatherford route on Nov. 1 of the same year.
Texas railroad historian Jack Proctor explained the how and why of the latter:
“The citizens of Weatherford importuned the GC & SF (Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe) Railway Co. to build the extension from Cleburne to their town, promising right-of-way en route and station grounds in Weatherford.”
The Weatherford Santa Fe depot is now a Chamber of Commerce. The Cleburne Santa Fe depot is now a mirage.
“Charter Amendment No. 11 covering the proposed extension from Cleburne to Weatherford was formally agreed upon by board of directors of GC & SF April 5, 1887 and certified by the Secretary of State in Austin April 19, 1887,” Proctor continued.
“Preliminary survey had been begun at Weatherford about Feb. 15 by F.W. Steber, locating engineer. The location was finished at Cleburne the latter part of April, 1887. Grading was begun in May and finished in October.
“Track laying was begun at Cleburne about Aug. 1 and reached Weatherford the latter part of October, the line being open for operation Nov. 1, 1887.”
Longtimers say the Weatherford-Cleburne line was nicknamed the Nancy Hanks in honor of a racehorse in Godley. There is no record of which was faster, the steed of iron or steed of flesh.
No historical marker commemorating the Nancy Hanks exists.
The state of Texas can address that issue now that Historic Cresson School has been appropriately immortalized.