THE COTTON BELT IN CARROLLTON
PART ONE: RAILROAD HISTORICAL REVIEW
by
by
Ira Glen Williams

            In this present day, mention of Carrollton, Texas brings to mind a busy suburb of Dallas located some miles northwest of downtown astride Interstate 35 E, the main route to Denton and points north. To the city dweller, Carrollton is an attractive combination bedroom community and business district within a reasonable driving distance from downtown and the North Dallas office communities.  In 2010 Carrollton was home to about 5,000 businesses1 and an estimated 122,100 inhabitants.2  In 2008, MONEY Magazine rated Carrollton fifteenth in the country among the best places to live.1  To the rail fan, Carrollton’s past and present hold some interesting elements much worth exploring, including the intersecting rights-of-way of three railroads which constructed or acquired routes through the city in the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries. The title of this article should leave no question as to which of the three holds the most interest for the author.

 

           Carrollton’s history begins in the late 1870’s with the Dallas and Wichita Railroad which began construction in 1878.  On January 26, 1878, A.T. Obenchain, Agent for Depot Towns of the Dallas and Wichita Railroad Company, filed a plat at the Dallas County Courthouse including the first known survey of the town.  On May 16 of that year, the United States Postal Service opened a post office in Carrollton, establishing the official name of the location.  In 1879 the Dallas and Wichita Railroad remained incomplete, and were purchased by the Texas & Pacific Railroad.  During the relatively short period of ownership by the T&P, this line was completed north to Denton, with Carrollton being one of the communities through which it passed.3    By 1891, ownership of the Dallas & Wichita Railroad had passed to the Katy4, which had incorporated a Texas-based subsidiary to own and operate its routes in the state.5   The Katy would retain and operate this route until its own independent identity came to a close with its acquisition by the Union Pacific in 1988.  Thus was Carrollton’s first rail line conceived and constructed.

          The Cotton Belt was the second railroad to arrive in Carrollton when it built a branch line from Commerce to Fort Worth, completing the branch to its western terminus on April 14, 1888.  At the time, the Cotton Belt was in its third corporate incarnation and formally known in Texas as the St. Louis, Arkansas, and Texas Railway Company in Texas.  A separate corporation, the St. Louis,Arkansas, and Texas Railway Company in Arkansas and Missouri, existed for the management of the road’s properties outside the Lone Star State. A peculiarity of Texas law requiring railroads operating routes in the state to be incorporated and maintain offices in the state prompted creation of this seemingly complicated corporate structure.  It should be noted that construction of the Fort Worth Branch occurred in the same general time frame as that of the branches to Sherman (from Commerce, completed July 17, 1887) and Hillsboro (fromCorsicana, completed February 3, 1888).  The Cotton Belt built all three new branches with fifty-six pound-per-yard rail, consistent with the weight of rail being used since 1886 to replace existing thirty-five pound-per-yard rail on the main line.  That process would finally reach completion in 1900.6

           A Dallas Morning News article run on March 9, 1900 referred to the first of three depots to be constructed at Carrollton.  This was a union depot jointly operated by the Cotton Belt and the Katy, and also housing local operations of the Wells Fargo Express Company, United States Express Company, and the American Express Company.  According to city records, it is believed to have been located at the southeast corner of the Cotton Belt-Katy diamond.7   by the time this depot is first known to have existed, the Cotton Belt had undergone reorganization. After going through a receivership, the railroad’s property passed to a pair of new corporations created in January of 1891. These were the St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company, which bought the Cotton Belt properties outside Texas at foreclosure, and the St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company of Texas, which likewise purchased the Texas properties.8 

           Carrollton still had approximately another two years to wait for its third railroad to arrive on the scene.  The St. Louis-San Francisco Railway Company, commonly known as the Frisco, incorporated two Texas-based subsidiaries to build and operate a route from the Red River through Denison and Sherman to Carrollton.  The Red River-Denison-Sherman segment would be constructed by the St. Louis, San Francisco, and Texas Railway, while the corporation whose route was to run southwest from Sherman and included Carrollton was called the Red River, Texas and Southern Railway Company, the latter receiving its charter on February 4, 1901.9  Its line was constructed over the course of the next thirteen months, and was completed with the tracks arriving in Carrollton on March 23, 1902.10  The Frisco initially operated from Carrollton to Fort Worth via trackage rights over the Cotton Belt, but this arrangement would last only until 1908 when eleven miles of new construction would tie the Frisco line to the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific’s Dallas-Fort Worth line at Irving.  This Carrollton-to-Irving segment was built and initially owned by the Rock Island, which was at the time under the same ownership as the Frisco.  From 1908 forward, the Frisco would operate to Fort Worth via trackage rights over the Rock Island via Irving.  Completion of the Carrollton-Irving line brought the number of diamonds at Carrollton to three, the first being the Cotton Belt’s crossing of the Katy (ex Dallas & Wichita Railroad) north-south line, and the second and third being the Frisco-Rock Island route’s crossings of the Katy and the Cotton Belt.  The Cotton Belt and the Katy cross at a 90-degree angle, with the Cotton Belt’s east-west line intersecting the Katy’s north-south line at what I will call the first diamond.  The Frisco-Rock Island line comes in from the northeast, crosses the Katy on a second diamond north of the Katy-Cotton Belt diamond, and continues southwest to cross the Cotton Belt on a third diamond west of the Katy-Cotton Belt diamond.  Completion of the Carrollton-Irving line prompted construction of an interlocking tower to control this busy junction.  Tower 77 was established on December 7, 1908, and was built on the east side of the Katy between the Cotton Belt and the Frisco tracks.11

          Approximately five years after the arrival of its third railroad, Carrollton received a new union depot, which was constructed in 1907 at the behest of the Texas Railroad Commission.  Local legend attributes the demise of the first depot to a fire, but more certain information in the form of a news article run in the Dallas Morning News on June 3, 1907 advises materials were at that time on site for construction of the second union depot.  Like many contemporary railroad depots constructed in the south, separate waiting rooms and outhouses were provided to comply with the requirements of segregation.  City records citing the same June 3, 1907 Dallas Morning News article indicate this second depot was located on the southeast corner of the Cotton Belt-Katy diamond, in the same location believed to have been occupied by the first depot.  This placed the second depot south of and directly across the Cotton Belt track from Tower 77.10   Both the Katy and the Cotton Belt utilized this depot for passenger service while the Frisco chose to provide only freight service in Carrollton.11  By 1909, the Cotton Belt also had at least one section house in Carrollton.10

          1913 brought electricity to Carrollton, and in that same year this named community was officially incorporated as a city.  Historical information becomes more detailed from this date forward, probably due to the local city government beginning to keep records as events transpired rather than construct them after the fact.12  The second union depot was destroyed by a fire in July of 1923.  The city had to endure a full year until a replacement depot was opened.  As of May 2, 1924, a crew of six men had begun construction of a new, third union depot, and it was understood they would remain in Carrollton until the project was completed.  The work took approximately two and a half months, with the depot opening for business on July 18.  Carrollton historic records available on the city’s website observe the building was “similar in plan to the depot that it replaced, although not as elaborate.  The location of the windows, rooms, and exterior doors were similar to the previous depot.  Additionally, the orientation of the new depot to the existing railroad tracks and its wide roof overhang were similar.”12   Like the second depot, the third one was located at the southeast corner of the Cotton Belt-Katy diamond.  This depot is the one still standing in Carrollton at the time this article is being written in the autumn of 2011.

          The Cotton Belt was never a major or glamorous passenger carrier. While the passenger trains it operated served the needs of residents along its routes, there was never a major effort to compete for heavy long-distance passenger traffic against the likes of the parallel Missouri Pacific-Texas & Pacific system.  Cotton Belt eliminated passenger service on its branches sometimes many years before the official end of passenger service came in 1959. Such was the case with the portion of the Fort Worth Branch west of Addison, which of course included Carrollton.  Cotton Belt terminated passenger trains on this portion of the line in the summer of 1935, with the last run being a westbound train operated to Fort Worth on August 17.  The Katy had already dropped standard passenger accommodations through Carrollton, but historic information available on Carrollton’s website indicates the Katy continued to provide passenger service in non-passenger rolling stock for a time. The connector track located southeast of the depot and allowing trains to cross between the Cotton Belt and the Katy is believed to have been built at some point after the Cotton Belt dropped passenger service through Carrollton.13    

           Part of Cotton Belt’s motivation for dropping passenger service on its outlying branches was likely cost savings which would result from the discontinuance of money-losing, lightly-patronized passenger trains.  The Cotton Belt’s financial health had deteriorated since the onset of the Great Depression, and the railroad filed for bankruptcy on December 12, 1935, just under four months after that last passenger train called at the Carrollton depot.  As the nation struggled out of its economic problems and then fought through the Second World War, the Cotton Belt remained in trusteeship and worked to earn cash to pay down its debts.  Wartime traffic bolstered the Cotton Belt’s cash flow, and the trusteeship was terminated on July 24, 1947, with all overdue interest and a good portion of the principal of its debts having been paid.14

The Cotton Belt did not neglect its facilities and infrastructure while in bankruptcy.  Besides major projects, such as the relaying of 486 miles of main line from Illmo, Missouri to Mount Pleasant,Texas with 112 pound-per-yard rail, numerous improvements were made to depot and shop facilities even as the company remained in trusteeship.15  As of October, 1941 plans were under way for some improvements in Carrollton, to be completed in 1942.  The proposed capital budget for 1942 called for the connector track to the Katy and a few other lengths of track in Carrollton to be re-laid with 75 pound-per-yard rail, replacing rail of various lighter weights.  Expected expenditures for this work were $994.  The section house, a bunk house, and the depot which was by then used only for freight service were to receive sanitary toilets.  Installing them in the depot was expected to cost $990, while expenses for the same improvement to both the bunk house and section house were estimated at a collective $620.  At the same time, Cotton Belt’s planning called for the retirement of a stock pen at Carrollton, although its location and the date of its construction remain unknown to the author.  Oddly enough, while the pen was to be retired, the chute was to be left intact.16   

            With no more passenger trains and wartime traffic having come to an end, after the Second World War the Cotton Belt’s route through Carrollton settled down to a comfortable existence as a freight-only branch line of a consistently profitable railroad.  The second installment of this writing is currently expected to cover the late Cotton Belt era in Carrollton, describing the scene as the author found it in 1995 and 1996 while living in the area, as well as the transition from operation by the Cotton Belt to operation by the Dallas, Garland & Northeastern Railroad.

This drawing illustrates the track arrangement in Carrollton prior to the Cotton Belt and Katy lines being taken over by the Dallas, Garland & Northeastern Railroad.

A photo of Tower 77 in Carrollton can be viewed at the Texas Interlocker Towers website at http://www.abandonedrails.com/towers.aspx

 

End Notes

1.  Carrollton Community Profile:  http://carrolltontxdevelopment.com/index.aspx?page=1291

2.  Carrollton Demographics: http://carrolltontxdevelopment.com/index.aspx?page=1295

3.  Carrollton Depot – Chronological History:     

    http://www.cityofcarrollton.com/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=6108

4.  The railroad referenced here operated multiple subsidiaries and passed through several similar

     names, ultimately becoming consolidated as the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad Company.  For

     the sake of simplicity, it is referenced throughout as “the Katy”.

5.  Brief History of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad Lines by Walter A. Johnson, Chronicles of  

     Oklahoma Volume 24 No. 3:  http://digital.library.okstate.edu/Chronicles/v024/v024p340.pdf

6.  80 Years of Transportation Progress: A History of the St. Louis Southwestern Railway,       

     COTTON BELT NEWS, Volume XIII, Number 8, October, 1957, pgs. 32, 38.

7.  Carrollton Depot – Chronological History:

     http://www.cityofcarrollton.com/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=6108

8. 80 Years of Transportation Progress:  A History of the St. Louis Southwestern Railway,    

    COTTON BELT NEWS, Volume XIII, Number 8, October, 1957, pg. 42.

9.  Frisco System, Texas State Historical Association:  A Digital Gateway to Texas History:

     http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/eqf10 and

    St. Louis, San Francisco and Texas Railway, Texas State Historical Association: A Digital   

    Gateway to Texas History:  http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/eqs31

10.  Carrollton Depot – Chronological History:

       http://www.cityofcarrollton.com/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=6108

11. Texas Interlocker Towers website, abandonedrails.com: 

       http://www.abandonedrails.com/towers.aspx

12. Carrollton Depot – Chronological History, quoting a July 18, 1924 article run in the Carrollton

      Chronicle: http://www.cityofcarrollton.com/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=6108

13.  Depot – Chronological History:

      http://www.cityofcarrollton.com/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=6108

14.  80 Years of Transportation Progress:  A History of the St. Louis Southwestern Railway,    

       COTTON BELT NEWS, Volume XIII, Number 8, October, 1957, pgs. 75-77

15.  80 Years of Transportation Progress:  A History of the St. Louis Southwestern Railway,    

       COTTON BELT NEWS, Volume XIII, Number 8, October, 1957, pg. 78

16.  St. Louis Southwestern Railway Lines Capital Budget, 1942.  Executive Department, St. Louis,

       Mo., October 20, 1941. Berryman Henwood, Trustee.