by Mary G. Saltarelli
Representative of early twentieth century rural Texas train stations, the Granbury railroad depot is in good condition and looks very much like it did when it was built in 1914. This historically significant and architecturally intact structure is a reminder of the role the railroad played in Hood County’s development.
Granbury’s one-story loadbearing brick depot is rectangular in plan with a bay window on the north side and a square projection on the south side. The depot’s walls are built of red pressed brick with stone trim and it has a hipped red-clay tile roof. It has five-paneled doors and one-over-one doublehung sash windows. Big wide eaves surround the building on all sides and were probably built to help protect both passengers and baggage from the weather.
The Granbury Depot
The interior of the depot has the original plaster walls, tongue-and-groove pine floors, and beaded board twelve-foot high ceilings. It has two chimneys: one on the west end, and one in the center towards the south side of the building. There are no fireplaces in the depot-potbellied stoves were originally used for heat, and both chimneys have evidence that stovepipes were connected to them. The station was originally constructed without electrical wiring; the current wiring has been added to the outside of the plaster walls.
The depot today has a passenger waiting room on the west end, the station agent’s office and restrooms in the center, and a freight room and small storage room on the east end. The freight room has wide doors on both the north and south sides of the building.
The original floor plan of the building was somewhat different. The waiting room and station agent’s office were located where they are today and a baggage, mail, and express room was on the east end of the building. Just east of the station agent’s office was a waiting room for black passengers, apparently located where the small storage room and part of the freight room are today. In fact, a north door just east of the station agent’s office still has lettering that says “Colored Waiting Room.” It is not known when this waiting room was remodeled into a storage room and part of the freight room.
Only two changes have been made to the exterior of the depot since it was built: a wooden loading dock was added and a train signaling board was removed.
The wooden loading dock was added to the outside of the freight room door on the south side of the building. According to a Santa Fe railroad official, this loading dock was added on in 1971 or 1972 when passenger service to and from Granbury ended At that time, the Santa Fe began using the depot exclusively for freight service and the floor of the baggage room was also raised to the level of the freight loading dock.
The train signaling board was located on the north side of the depot, just above the bay window. This board was used by the Frisco stationmaster, to signal to passing trains. After the Santa Fe took over operation of the railroad in this area in 1937, the train signaling board was removed and the Santa Fe added a semaphore to signal to the trains.
The railroad arrived in Granbury in 1887 when the first section of the Fort Worth and Rio Grande Railway Company’s planned line from Fort Worth to Brownwood was completed. The Fort Worth and Rio Grande Railway Company was chartered on June 1, 1885. Construction of the line’s first forty miles from Fort Worth to Granbury was completed in 1887 and it was two years before construction resumed. After 1889, this line eventually extended to the southwest, stopping in Menard in 1911.
Granbury greeted the Fort Worth and Rio Grande Railroad with great enthusiasm. Residents of Fort Worth and Granbury paid the Railway Company a $25,000 bonus to encourage them to build a railroad line between the two cities. Among the contributing residents in Granbury was publisher Ashley Crockett, Davy Crockett’s grandson, who contributed $600 toward the bonus payment.
The railroad had an immediate impact on the economy in Granbury as shown in the following quote from the Granbury Graphic in January 1887: “Property values have increased at least 300 percent since work began on the railroad and rents have gone up rapidly. “
The initial surge of activity that Granbury experienced was also written about in the Granbury Graphic in March 1887: “…the town on the boom and real estate on the rise. ‘All aboard for Granbury’ will soon be cried from the Union Station. Granbury will probably be the terminus of the road for some time and will be a ‘hummer’ and no mistake.”
The excitement fostered by the new railroad and the full extent of Granbury’s boom in 1887 is shown in the following quote from the Granbury News in March of that year: “A bank, a bridge, a railroad and a new college are the all absorbing enterprises just now. On with the boom and a good rain.”
The arrival of the railroad in Granbury occurred during the decade that saw railroad expansion throughout much of Texas. Between 1880 and 1890, 5,466 miles of railroad were laid in Texas. Most of this mileage was into undeveloped counties to the west that did not already have railroad transportation. The thirty-nine counties that received new railroad lines during the 1880s increased their population 200 percent from 55,984 in 1880 to 159,714 in 1890.
By the time the railroad reached Hood County in 1887, this area had already converted from predominately stock range land to a more agrarian community. In his Hood County History, written in 1895, T.T. Ewell estimated that by 1876 the county was, “…about 425 square miles, we had about 500 farms enclosed, of an acreage of 100 each, a population of 5,000, four flour and grist mills, 9 cotton gins, 20 common schools…and six lodges of grangers.”
The Texas Almanac shows Hood County’s population as 6,125 in 1880. Ten years later in 1890, which was also three years after the arrival of the railroad in Granbury, Hood County’s population had increased to 7,614.
T.T. Ewell also wrote of the impact of the Fort Worth and Rio Grande railroad on Granbury and Hood County:
This road has been under able management, and all along its line are discerned the marks of prosperity. It has added very considerably to our taxable wealth, both directly and indirectly, and the great convenience to our agricultural, stock and commercial interests can scarcely be estimated.
The first Fort Worth and Rio Grande depot in Granbury was a frame structure built in the same location as the present depot. It was probably constructed in 1887, the year the Fort Worth and Rio Grande line reached the town.
In 1903, the Frisco, parent company of the Fort Worth and Rio Grande Railway Company, consolidated all of its Texas properties under one name–the St. Louis, San Francisco and Texas Railway Company. From that time on, the railroad in Hood County was referred to as the Frisco.
As Granbury grew, the frame railroad depot in town became a point of contention between the residents and the railroad officials. Citizens of Granbury felt that it was an eyesore, and in 1905 they submitted a petition to Frisco officials asking for better passenger depot accommodations. The railroad responded and said they would build a “modern passenger and freight depot” in Granbury, but nothing was done until the old wooden depot burned in 1912.
After the fire, Granbury citizens hoped the Frisco would build a new depot of stone, thereby making use of native Hood County limestone:
It is hoped and believed that the Frisco will replace the burned building with a new brick or stone depot, and citizens have already consulted with officials along this line. Of course we would prefer to see the building constructed of stone as this would give employment to considerable home labor and use material close at hand. However, the town will make no complaint so we get a creditable depot building, which we feel sure the company will erect.
For the first year after the depot burned, the Frisco brought an old passenger coach to Granbury, and it was used as the passenger station. In January 1914, the cement foundation for the new depot was completed and the bricklaying began. The new brick depot was completed and occupied in July 1914:
Agent Upshaw and his force moved into the new Frisco depot on Monday making much more convenient and comfortable, not only for the force, but also the traveling public. The grounds have been graded and graveled, making it one of the most attractive depot surroundings on the road.
Good relations seem to have prevailed between the Frisco railroad officials and the citizens and officials of Granbury and Hood County. Railroad officials made occasional goodwill trips to Granbury, touring the city and discussing business needs with the merchants, farmers, and ranchers in the area.
The Frisco had a large water tank east of the depot to supply water for its coal-fired and oil-burning steam engines. The people of Granbury also relied on the water in the tank for use during fires, and the city made payments to the railroad for fire protection. These payments for water use continued until Granbury’s first waterworks system was installed in 1906, for both fire protection and to lower fire insurance rates.
The Frisco stationmaster’s office in the center of the new depot had telegraph equipment and was Granbury’s Western Union telegraph office. The station agent also received telegraph messages from the train dispatcher in Fort Worth and relayed them to passing train conductors.
The Frisco worked to populate the area served by its Fort Worth and Rio Grande line in the hopes of thus increasing their business. They had a Division Immigration Agent stationed in Stephenville and in May 1905, a letter written to him by the Frisco system General Immigration Agent appeared in the Granbury News:
I want to give the territory of the Fort Worth and Rio Grande special attention and I am requesting my agents to look into this territory thoroughly with a view of developing and colonizing the same with good energetic and thorough farmers…I am particularly desirous that you enlarge your list of lands and make special effort to secure good lands in the vicinity of Granbury, Tolar, Stephenville, Comanche, and Brady, and in fact at all points along the Fort Worth and Rio Grande…
The Frisco ran the Fort Worth and Rio Grande line from Fort Worth to Menard until 1937. This line continually lost money under Frisco ownership and on March 1, 1937, it was sold to the Santa Fe system. One month after the Santa Fe took over ownership of the county’s railroad, the Hood County Tablet reported that the “Santa Fe Railway System Shows Increased Business.”
The railroad served two major needs for the people of Granbury and the surrounding area: passenger and mail transportation and commercial shipping.
Prior to the arrival of the railroad, all travel was done on horseback or in wagons or stagecoaches. The railroad made travel much faster and more comfortable and people in Hood County took advantage of it.
The citizens of Granbury rode the train to visit their relatives in other towns in the area–the Frisco trains also stopped in Cresson, Waples, and Tolar in Hood County and in Bluff Dale and Stephenville in neighboring Erath County.
The Frisco actively solicited passenger traffic–their passenger schedule was printed in the weekly Granbury newspapers for years. They also advertised electric lights, fans, dining cars, and other luxuries on their long-distance trains to St. Louis and other cities.
The Frisco and the Santa Fe ran special trains to the Texas state fair in Dallas each year with reduced rates. They also advertised special trains or special reduced rates for many different religious, political, and social events, such as a revival in Brownwood; a chatauqua in Stephenville; a speech by President Theodore Roosevelt, baseball games, a carnival, and the annual Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show in Fort Worth; and state political party conventions and a Pan-American Exposition in Dallas.
In the spring of 1906, the Frisco ran a large ad in the Granbury News, promoting Fort Worth as “the leading amusement city of the south,” with special Sunday round trip fares.
In fact, through the 1920s, many Granbury citizens took the train to Fort Worth for a day of entertainment or business. They would catch an early morning train (a schedule printed in a 1914 Granbury News shows that it left Granbury at 4:35 a.m.), and spend the day and evening in Fort Worth and then return on a midnight train. A favorite local expression in Granbury was, “Goin to Fot Woth on that fo-day train,” which meant, “Going to Fort Worth on that before-day train.”
Many visitors came to Granbury by train, including traveling salesmen or drummers, eager to do business with merchants in Granbury, and college students bound for Granbury College or Add-Ran Christian University in Thorp Spring. A horse-drawn carriage met each passenger train to transport any travelers into town.
The trains enabled the county to have larger social gatherings, such as picnics and reunions. In August 1919, the organizers of the Hood County Singing Convention expected “a number of good singers from outside the county with us, as the railroad makes it possible for more to come than it would otherwise.”
In 1899, Hood County began a tradition that has held over until today: an annual picnic and reunion known as the Old Soldiers and Settlers Reunion of Hood County. Originating as a reunion of ex-Confederate soldiers and old Hood County families, it took place over a three day period on the reunion grounds in Granbury each summer. Reunion participants and many political speakers would arrive by train to take part in the annual gathering and celebration. Many noteworthy politicians of the times came to Granbury by train to speak during Hood County’s reunions. Among them were Congressman 0.W. Gillespie in 1905, Governor T.M. Campbell in 1908, and Judge James W. Swayne and gubernatorial candidate Thomas H. Ball in 1914.
Many other politicians came into Granbury on special trains–some of them were on whistle-stop tours and gave their speeches from a train platform. The most notable speaker at the depot was William Jennings Bryan, who stopped briefly in Granbury on his way to Stephenville in June 1905. He delivered a short address from a coach platform at the old frame depot to a group of about 300 people.
Other political figures who came to Granbury by train included U.S. Senator Richard Coke and U.S. Senator Horace Chilton in 1891, Governor James Stephen Hogg in 1892, temperance advocate Carrie Nation in 1905, and Governor Jim Ferguson, when he was seeking reelection in 1918.
A band and 1,000 people greeted Governor Hogg at the first depot when he arrived in Granbury in June 1892. In March 1905 the Granbury News described Carrie Nation’s visit to Granbury:
Aunt Carrie Nation met a good portion of the population of the town at the depot when she arrived Monday. In fact, she had a larger audience there than at the college at night, though those who attended said her talk was all right. The curiosity of most people was satisfied by a sight of the notorious woman.
More recent special trains to stop at the Granbury depot for whistlestop speeches were the campaign trains of Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes when he ran for Governor in 1972, and Governor Bill Clements when he ran for reelection in 1982.
On November 30, 1893, General H.B. Granbury’s body was brought to Granbury from Columbia, Tennessee, on a special train. During a day of honor and tribute to Granbury’s namesake, his remains were reburied in Granbury Cemetery. This funeral for General Granbury was attended by many people from throughout the south who arrived on special trains with extra coaches that were ran and advertised by the Fort Worth and Rio Grande Railroad.
Special trains were also sent to Granbury during World War I, to pick up local men who were to be inducted into the army. When the troop train arrived in Granbury, the local schools closed and all of the students gathered at the depot with many of the townspeople to say goodbye to the new soldiers. When one of the local men came back from the war, the schools closed so that the students could go to the depot and welcome him home.
Meeting passenger trains in Granbury was a common social activity. A train arriving in Granbury was an exciting event–everyone in town came to see the morning passenger train. Many of the townspeople gathered at the depot on Sundays to greet the trains. The depot also became a popular gathering spot for young people on Saturday night and for high school students “kodaking” outings.
The passenger trains also carried mail and express packages. There were two baggage cars on the Frisco trains, one for mail and express, and one for baggage. There was an express office just north of the town square where local people brought their packages to be shipped. The express agent transported the packages to the depot in a horse-drawn wagon. The depot baggage room was also used for storage of mail and express packages.
Prohibition took effect in Hood County in 1902, and in December of that year, all the saloons were closed. After 1902, a few men in Granbury had liquor shipped to them COD by train and they picked it up at the depot when it arrived.
Passenger train travel remained important in Granbury for some time, because up to the 1920s, very few people had cars and the roads in the area were virtually impassable at times, especially during wet weather. The local newspapers constantly urged people to push for and work toward better roads. In 1919 the Granbury News wrote the following:
A good hard surface road between Granbury and Fort Worth would be of great practical value to the country, aside from the business and pleasure travel in autos. It would enable farmers to market their livestock and other products much more cheaply and quickly, taking them to market on large trucks, which will come into general use just as soon as the country has roads over which they can be run economically.
Even the Frisco railroad promoted improved roads, sponsoring a “Good Roads Train” that arrived in Granbury in May 1912. This train had road building experts on it who spoke and advised the citizens of the town.
“Highway Number 10” between Granbury and Fort Worth was completed after 1924, making faster auto transportation to a large city possible. The Texas Almanac of 1925 shows that in that year Hood County had thirty miles of paved roads and thirty miles of gravel roads. Eventually, Hood County improved its existing roads and built new roads, as did the rest of the state. Increased passenger traffic on highways and in the air led to a decrease in rail passenger traffic after World War II. Between 1965 and 1978, rail travel in Texas dwindled to almost nothing. During that same time period (in 1971 or 1972), the Santa Fe ceased railroad passenger service to and from Granbury.
All early commercial shipping was done by wagon, which was costly and slow. Cheaper and faster transportation was made possible by the railroad, and it was used extensively by the farmers and merchants in Granbury and Hood County, to ship produce and livestock to market and to bring in goods and supplies.
Agriculture has long been Hood County’s leading business, and the railroad was crucial to agricultural shipping. Granbury, the county seat, was the natural agricultural trading center for home markets and shipping center for larger markets in other cities. In 1898, in an article entitled, “Farming in Hood County,” the Granbury News wrote the following on agricultural marketing in Hood County:
Granbury is naturally the trading place of our county, in which all the products are handled, but the last few years the agricultural industry has been stimulated to greater efforts by the commission men, and the direct buyer of the Fort Worth and eastern markets…The Fort Worth and Rio Grande Railroad places us within an hour of that market…
Cotton was the county’s first leading crop. The first local cotton was harvested in 1861. In 1898, the county’s yield was 7,413 bales, and by 1912, the cotton yield was 17,875 bales. It was probably all shipped out of the county by train–most of it through Granbury.
The county had nine cotton gins in 1876, and Granbury alone had five gins by 1905. There was a cotton platform right up on the railroad tracks east of the Granbury depot. The cotton bales were stacked on the platform for loading into the railroad cars. And just north of the tracks and east of the depot, behind the cotton platform, was a large cotton yard. Many Granbury old-timers recall that carloads of cotton were shipped from the town, and one resident remembers that every vacant lot in Granbury was covered with cotton waiting to be shipped. In September, 1905, the Granbury News wrote:
As a cotton market and a trading point Granbury today has a better standing with the people than ever before in her history. Our splendid ginning facilities, with both home and foreign buyers constantly on the streets and bidding to the very top notch for cotton, together with the fine stock of goods in all lines carried by our merchants, all prove of great advantage to the town…
Granbury also had a cottonseed oil mill that was built in 1905. A railroad spur was built from the main tracks–to the mill, and boxcars full of cottonseed were shipped there to be processed into oil. The oil produced by the mill was also shipped out by train.
Watermelons became an important crop in Hood County during the 1920s. Over 200 boxcars full of watermelons were shipped out of the county in 1924. Many residents also remember carloads of watermelons being shipped from Granbury–the farmers brought horse-drawn wagons full of watermelons through the city to the depot.
In the early 1900s, the Frisco railroad encouraged agricultural production, including melon and cantaloupe raising, sending an agricultural agent and a “Grain Exhibit Car” to Granbury to advise and instruct the farmers in the area on farming practices. In an article entitled, “The Frisco System Encourages the Country’s Development,” the Granburv News wrote of the Frisco’s efforts to aid agricultural endeavors in Hood County:
This department of the Frisco is all that its name implies and shows to our people the advantage of having a great trunk line railroad system, because it can do for them what could not possibly be done by any short line. This department not only gives attention to truck and melon growing, but broadly extends its work toward the general upbuilding of the country, encouraging fruit growing as well as dairying and stock raising.
A 1906 article that publicized the arrival of the “Grain Exhibit Car” also announced that the Frisco would be distributing free seed to the farmers and added: “By this method the Frisco increases the prosperity of the farmers and in consequence increases the earnings of the company. “
As cotton production tapered in Hood County, peanuts and pecans became the county’s leading crops. In 1942, 16,000 acres of peanuts were harvested in Hood County. Farmers were paid over $260,000 for 4,000 tons of peanuts, much of it shipped out of the county by freight trains. In December 1942, the Hood County Tablet described, “…mountains of sacked peanuts stacked in Tolar waiting for freight cars…many peanut growers suggest that the name of Tolar be changed to Peanutville.”
The average pecan crop in Hood County was over three million pounds a year, according to the Hood County Tablet in 1941. Many of these pecans were probably also shipped from Granbury by train. In 1937, the Hood County Tablet proclaimed:
Hood County has long enjoyed an enviable reputation for the quality of her pecans. Probably no other section of the country grows better quality native pecans as well as improved varieties, which fact is widely recognized by the big shellers of the North and East who are always ready to pay a premium for Hood County pecans. This contributes to the further fact that Granbury is one of the best pecan markets in Texas.
Livestock, especially beef and dairy cattle and hogs, has always been an important agricultural producer in Hood County. The county began as an area of open range land, and livestock is the leader in agricultural earnings in the county today. The railroad built a large stock pen that was two blocks wide just north of the railroad tracks to handle the shipping of cattle and hogs from Granbury. The North Texas Livestock Commission Company, located in the Fort Worth stockyards, advertised in the Granbury News often in the early 1900s, urging ranchers to “consign your stock to us.” In 1905, the Granbury News wrote of a sale of “600 head of high grade stock cattle,” which were shipped to Mexico from Granbury by train.
The merchants in Granbury received most of their goods by train for many years. Groceries, grains, dry goods, hardware merchandise, lumber, and fresh meats were shipped into Granbury by train and unloaded at the depot (a freight building directly across the tracks from the depot was used for freight storage). Horse-drawn wagons brought the goods to the merchants in Granbury and Lipan. Ice was also brought to Granbury by train and chutes were used to unload it into storage vaults. In 1912, the Baker Hardware and Implement Company advertised: “Now hay-making time and the weather is ideal. We are now unloading A CAR OF HAY TIES and a binder car is now being unloaded.” And in 1920, the same company advertised that they were receiving a car of wire and wire products, including barbed wire and nails. Individuals often advertised a sale of certain products, such as Arkansas apples, from a car on a side track at the depot.
In 1971 or 1972, after passenger service to Granbury ended, the depot was converted to use as a freight depot. In June 1983, the Santa Fe abandoned freight service from the Granbury train station, and all freight service for the Granbury area is now handled by the Santa Fe’s regional freight office in Fort Worth.
The Granbury railroad depot is now being leased to the City of Granbury by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company. The City of Granbury is subleasing the depot to the Hood County Historical Commission and the Hood County Genealogical Society. These two groups are working together to rehabilitate the Granbury depot for use as an archives to store local historical records.
The Hood County Historical Commission and the Hood County Genealogical Society have formed a joint committee to work together to renovate the depot. The joint committee has fourteen members, and is known as the Granbury Depot Restoration Committee. The committee is receiving assistance and advice with this local preservation project from Albert S. Komatsu and Associates, a Fort Worth architectural firm.
The joint committee plans to use part of the building as a genealogical and historical library. The waiting room will be furnished to resemble a railroad passenger waiting room of the early twentieth century and will be used for meetings of both societies. Tables and a work area will be provided so that researchers can use the records stored in the depot, and the Depot Restoration Committee plans to open the depot to the public for such research.
The railroad had a tremendous social, political, and economic impact on Hood County and its county seat, Granbury. As a remaining symbol of the county’s railroad era, the Granbury railroad depot should receive a Texas Historical Marker to acknowledge and commemorate the important role of the railroad in the county’s history.
|Interviews with Granbury folks about their Depot memories:Albert PorterMarie Raifsnider WilliamsMary Kate DurhamMilton KennonVernie Barber, Jr.|
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