(Image credit, ttarchive.com)
The railroad that later became the Houston and Texas Central Railway dates back to 1848. It was originally called the Galveston and Red River Railroad. A charter was granted to Ebenezer Allen to build a line from Galveston north to the Red River. Construction started a few years later and by early 1856 the first two miles of the line had been completed. The name change to the Houston and Texas Central was effected in the fall of 1856 when the company was reorganized.
To illustrate some of the time and material requirements to lay track, a newspaper article from February of 1857 quotes the Houston Telegraph as saying the Company had recently purchased 850 tons of iron to provide the materials for laying the next 10 miles of track. The article continued to state that the track would be laid as son as the iron arrived and that it would take until April to lay it. It continued by stating that fifteen more miles were being made ready for the next leg of the work. It employed hundreds of workers doing site preparation and laying track.
The line had made it to Millican, roughly about 30 miles southeast of College Station, by the spring of 1861. Construction was suspended for the duration of the Civil War but was quickly resumed after the hostilities ended. Construction was faster after the war and by New Year’s Day of 1873, the line had reached Denison and the Red River, linking up with the Missouri, Kansas and Texas (the Katy railroad) line to the north. Some of the connections were made by acquring shorter lines in its path that were already completed. At its peak the line included 850 to 900 continuous miles of track.
In 1877 the railroad was acquired by financier Charles Morgan who had large interests in shipping and transportation. Morgan was born in 1795 in Connecticut. Morgan had put together a transportation empire and built it all virtually on his own, getting his start in New York City at the age of fourteen. He inaugurated a steamship line that ran from New Orleans to Galveston in 1837. Morgan followed this by opening more routes between the Gulf Coast and Mexico over the next twenty years. By the time of the Civil War, he had a large maritime shipping business and had begun to get into rail commerce . It is said that he prospered during the war, despite the fact that Union and Confederate forces seized and commandeered some of his facilities and vessels, although he contracted with both the Union and Confederacy with other vessels. After the war, he began to acquire shorter rail lines and expanded his extensive maritime interests by developing routes to and from Central America.
Galveston had long been a major Texas port but for financial reasons, Morgan desired to withdraw from using Galveston. The Port of Houston had been established by the Republic of Texas in 1842 and Morgan wanted to focus on developing Houston’s ability to ship goods, possibly to become independent of Galveston. The Houston Bayou Ship Channel Company had been organized in 1869. Morgan contracted with the Houston Ship Channel Company to dredge Buffalo Bayou to accommodate larger vessels. He financed this project himself, reportedly in exchange for an interest in the ship channel company. He later acquired the ship channel company, but eventually disposed of it as his interests increased in commerce by rail.
Morgan’s postwar interests continued to grow, including the acquisition of the Houston and Texas Central Railway. Once in control of the line, Morgan discharged all of the Texas based officers in favor of himself and his trusted executive. However, he died the following year, reportedly from complications of Bright’s Disease, although he was then about eighty-two years old. After a few years of negotiation with Morgan’s heirs, the former Morgan interests were acquired by Southern Pacific in 1883. The line remained under the control of Southern Pacific and its successors for about the next 100 years. It operated essentially as a separate subsidiary until around the late 1920s and was later leased to the Texas and New Orleans line in the 1930s.
Over the years, portions of the line were either abandoned or superseded by changes in the routes and the once unique railroad gradually lost its identity. For example, in Dallas, the former Houston and Texas Central rail line became the basis for the route of North Central Expressway. The Austin rail lines were conveyed to a subsidiary of Union Pacific after Southern Pacific’s merger with UP and then later conveyed to Austin’s Capital Metropolitan Transit Authority.
During its life, the Houston and Texas Central Railway was seen as a positive influence on the growth and thriving of several large Texas cities including Houston, Austin and Dallas, along with the smaller cities and towns along its path.
© 2019, all rights reserved.