The Railroads Come to Beeville
During the early 1880s, the enterprising people of Bee County began to feel the need for a railroad. Several families were leaving the county to be near rail transportation for the shipment of livestock and agricultural products, as well as for passenger service.
Uriah Lott, a builder of railroads, was laying plans to construct a railroad from San Antonio to the Gulf Coast about this time. Early ideas favored following the San Antonio River valley, through Goliad, on to Refugio and Saint Marys, with the terminus at Rockport. The promoters negotiated with Goliad and Refugio but without success. (Hobart Husons “Refugia.’)
Since Goliad had failed to raise the required bonus to induce the Uriah Lott railroad to transit the county east of Bee, during the middle of 1885, Captain A. C. Jones, representing a number of Bee County businessmen and ranchmen, petitioned Lott to route the railroad through Bee County.
According to J. H. Allhands’ book, ‘Uriah Lott,” published in 1949 by Naylor Company, the formal railroad proposition was addressed to Frank 0. Skidmore, a wealthy stockman of the Skidmore Ranch located on Aransas Creek about eight miles south of Beeville, asking for a bonus of $100000. Part of the letter stated: “To the stockmen, to aid in building this road, means more money for his cattle because he can reach the market quicker and cheaper than heretofore.”
Frank 0. Skidmore was a son of Samuel Cyle Skidmore, who established the ranch in 875. Frank acquired a large portion of the ranch, and following the wishes of his father, donated to the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad the right of way across his land and the streets and every other block of land for the townsite of Skidmore. His father died about a year before the railroad came through Bee County.
Uriah Loft came to Beeville in January 1886 and was shown over Bee County by Sheriff D. A. T. Walton. Captain Jones and Attorney John W. Flournoy, the committee in charge of acquiring the bonus to bring the road through Bee County, conferred with the railroad magnate and informed him that they had collected more than $55,000 from about one hundred fifty citizens. (Captain Jones donated one-tenth of the cash bonus of $60,000 and as much more in land.)
Captain Jones, because of the many civic projects he sponsored, was called the Father of Beeville. Through his gifts and influence, and through the sizable donation and persuasion of the Skidmore family, as well as smaller gifts from other enterprising pioneers of that period, Uriah Loft headed his railroad through Bee County.
Very probably the people of the community received a great shock when Lott said he wanted the depot located on the ground where the public school building was standing. However, Captain Jones came to the rescue and donated a tract of land for a new schoolhouse. It was where the Seventh-day Adventist Church now stands. (In 1894 this building was abandoned and a new one was built where the Madderra Elementary School is located.)
Hobart Huson (“Refugio,” p. 154, Vol. I) said: “The building of the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad south from San Antonio was the final arbiter in the fate of Saint Marys. As the rails approached Beeville, there was doubt as to which direction it would branch. The promoters of the road negotiated with Goliad and Refugio, but without success. Had the line gone to Refugio, it was slated to have proceeded to Rockport by way of Saint Marys. While these negotiations pended, the I 886 storm wrecked the wharf installations at Saint Marys . . . The railroad was not built through the town, although after it had reached Rockport a branch line to the Refugio port was considered.”
Editor W. 0. McCurdy’s Beeville Bee, issue of Thursday, June 17, 1886, carried the following story of the arrival of the first passenger train into Beeville:
THE FIRST PASSENGER TRAIN INTO BEEVILLE
‘Last Monday (June 14) was a day that will long be remembered by the citizens of Beeville. The excitement was caused by the appearance of the long-looked-for Iron Horse.
“It was announced that the passenger train would be here at 5:15 p.m., and at 4 o’clock the inhabitants of the Prairie City began to assemble on the depot grounds. There were in that assembly the old and the young, the black and the white. All were there to behold a sight that none had ever seen—a passenger train in Beeville.
“Mr. J. F. Barker, a quiet and polite gentleman, was the conductor of the train, and we were glad to make his acquaintance.
“Mr. W. M. Barrett was the engineer who drove the first passenger train in Beeville. He informed us that he drove the first S.A.&A.P. engine over the International Railroad to San Antonio, and has been on the S.A.&A.P. railroad ever since. Mr. Barrett is a large, portly, handsome looking gentleman.
“We hardly know which attracted most, the train or the people. We noticed one among the assembly who -attracted our attention more than, any person or thing there. It -was the gentleman who had labored so hard to secure the railroad, and if is he to whom this county is indebted for his never-ending endeavor until he had secured the railroad. The gentleman was Captain A. C. Jones.
“His cup of joy was overflowing and he could not hold it all. He waved his hat and cheered the train as she pulled in and blowed her whistle, and he would hollow, ‘Blow her again!’ when the Captain wanted her to blow on.
“When the train neared the depot, she gave two long, loud, shrill whistles, which were answered by the construction train.
“Oh, what a stir on our streets. Everybody are happy, and well they should be, for they have great blessings, good rains, good crops, and plenty of fine grass, and to complete it all is the connection by rail with the city of Southwest Texas, San Antonio.
“We are proud to say that we feel a near kin to that noble city, San Antonio, and trust that she will condescend to acknowledge our relationship with them.
The train was making daily trips from San Antonio to Pettus City several weeks prior to its advent into Beeville. The Bee carried schedules each week, and as other segments of track were completed, other towns were added to the timetable. At the completion of the track into Corpus Christi, The following paragraph was added to the timetable:
“Connections at San Antonio with Missouri Pacific and Southern Pacific railways; at Floresville with stage lines for Sutherland Springs, La Vernia and Pleasanton; at Kenedy for Helena; at Pettus for Oakville and Mineral City; at Beeville for Oakville, Mineral City, and Goliad. Trains run daily except Sunday.—Uriah Loft, President and General Manager.”
There was one train a day each way, north and south. Following is the timetable published in the Bee at the completion of the railroad info Corpus Christi on November 25, 1886:
S.A.&A.P. RAILROAD TIME CARD
In later years, as passenger traffic increased, there were two trains daily each way, and from 1910 through 1918 there were four trains a day. The night train carried a Pullman car. At the peak of the passenger service, an “express train’ making stops only at the county seats of Floresville, Karnes City, Kenedy Junction, Beeville, and Sinton, was a luxury that only lasted about a year. When the United States declared war against Germany in April 1917, passenger cars were needed by the government to transport troops, and this curtailed the service to the public.
In 1888, Capt. Jones added more reasons as to why he should bear the title of Father of Beeville when he went to New York to confer with a Mr. Huntington, head of the Gulf, Western Texas, and Pacific Railway, a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific, making a plea for the extension of the road from Victoria to Beeville. He was successful, and in the issue of the Bee dated August I, I 889, the following story appeared to tell of the arrival of the first passenger train over the S. P.:
“THE G., W.T.&P. HAS ARRIVED AT LAST
“The 14th day of June 1886, the date of the completion of the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway into Beeville, marked an era in the town’s history. Previous to that date it was a collection of perhaps fifty straggling buildings and had two hundred and fifty or three hundred inhabitants. The trade of the town was nothing to speak of.
“After the arrival of the first train, new people began to come in and new houses to go up and trade to extend until now Beeville is headquarters for three or four counties and has a population of upwards of 1200, all alive and kicking.
“The 14th of June 1886, the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad reached Beeville, a road which stretches out over five or six hundred miles, touching three of the five principal cities in the state and affording indirect communication with the great marts of commerce.
“On the 26th of July, in the year of our Lord I 889, marks another era in the history of the town. On that day the first engine on the Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific Railway reached Beeville, affording it direct outlet to the east and making the county easy of access to a large immigration constantly pouring into the state via the Southern Pacific, of which the Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific is a branch.
“Now there are few stones in the path of the wheels of progress, so far as this town is concerned. Situated in the high prairie region of Southwest Texas, where nature has been so bountiful a man can live by lying under a tree and letting the Lord work for him, but where energy and enterprise meets with quick response, the town is bound to grow and the next three years will bring about a much more marked change than the last three.
“Hurrah for the Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific and Captain Jones.”
There was one train a day each way. Conductor Joe Harrison was in charge and William Whalen was the engineer. Both families settled in Beeville. The passenger depot was located at the junction of the S.P. and S.A.&A.P. tracks.
After the unloading of passengers, baggage and express packages, the crew moved the train a mile west of the depot, crossed Poesta Creek, and turned the engine around on the turn-table so that it would face east and be ready for the trip to Victoria the following morning. Mike Mock, the “engine wiper,” oiled the machinery each afternoon.
The train operated under the name of Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific for several years, then was changed to Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio (G.H.&S.A.), In later years the Southern Pacific absorbed the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway, and the present name of the organization is Southern Pacific Transportation Co.
Miss Evelyn HoIt has been depot agent here since 1967, when she succeeded J. M. (Jimmy) Hicks, who retired after having been local agent since July 1945.
The Southern Pacific Company has been unable to give me the names of all the agents who served with the S. A. & A. P. and the Southern Pacific.
D. B. Saffold was the first agent for the S. A. & A. P. But when the Southern Pacific came into Beeville in 1889, Mr. Saffold resigned his position and became agent for the Southern Pacific. In those days, the agent had to fill two positions—agent and telegraph operator. It is believed that a Mr. Goforth succeeded him at the S.A.&A.P. The Beeville Bee shows R. J. Love was agent in 1895 and R. B. (Dick) Taylor was agent in the late I 890s, and continued in this capacity until he died. Others following Mr. Taylor were a Mr. Becker and J. G. Thomas. Mr. Hicks succeeded Mr. Thomas.
At the request of this writer, the Southern Pacific Transportation Co.’s public relations manager, Joseph L. Bart Jr. of Houston, has furnished the following history of the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway:
Transportation requirements of South Texas business leaders who needed rail facilities to link San Antonio with a deep-water port, prompted the organization and construction of the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway three-quarters of a century ago.
Its construction is a monument to the vision, enterprise and resourcefulness of a former New Yorker who had moved to Corpus Christi—Uriah Loft.
Loft had no promise of financial backing when he announced plans to build the railroad. Through sound business transactions and a ‘tremendous selling job” he raised the necessary funds to start construction work.
Initial construction of the S.A.&A.P. was started south from San Antonio in May 1885, with the line being completed through Kenedy and Beeville to Corpus Christi the following year. Construction of the line from Kenedy to Houston was started in 1886 and completed in I 888.
To provide a rail connection with the Texas Mexican Railway, Loft built a line south from Skidmore to Alice, construction of which was started in December I 887 and completed in May 1888.
The activity which had characterized the S.A.&A.P. development did not diminish. In June 1887, a new line was projected north from Yoakum to West Point which was reached that same year. The railroad was extended to the community of Loft in June 1891 where it connected with the line that had been built southward from Waco.
During the latter part of 1903 the management of the S.A.&A.P. reached a decision to construct a line into the Rio Grande Valley with terminus at Brownsville. Surveys were completed and construction started from Alice in January 1904, with Falfurrias being reached in June of that year.
Financial difficulties kept the S.A.&A.P. management from extending the railroad south from Falfurrias and for 23 years this station served as the southern terminus of the railroad.
On May I, 1925, the Interstate Commerce Commission authorized lease of the S.A.&A.P. properties by the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railway (now Southern Pacific) and application was made for permission to extend the railroad to the Rio Grande.
The Interstate Commerce Commission granted this request following a series of hearings in which the railroad was strongly supported by the Texas Railroad Commission, state officials and civic groups throughout Central and Southwest Texas.
Construction of this line was started in July 1926. The railroad reached Edinburg on December II, 1926. The golden spike commemorating completion of the line to Edinburg was driven in that city on January II, 1927, by the late H. M. Lull, then executive vice president of Southern Pacific Lines in Texas and Louisiana.
Service info Edinburg and McAllen was inaugurated in February 1927.. Pending application to the Interstate Commerce Commission filed in October 1926 to extend the line from Harlingen to Brownsville, Harlingen remained the terminus until permission was granted on June 18, 1927. The railroad was completed to Brownsville on October 2 I with the first train being operated over this line into Brownsville on the following day.
Loft’s tireless work in building the S.A.&A.P. is told in a news article published by the St. Louis Globe-Democrat in 1901. The article:
“South Texas is full of strange things. From South Texas came a man who built 600 miles of railroad with a five dollar bill and faith. He moved to San Antonio from Corpus Christi with his possessions loaded on a two-wheel cart. He secured a charter to build a railroad from San Antonio to Aransas Pass. He graded the first mile, throwing a great deal more than one shovel of dirt with his own hands.
“A president of another Texas railroad loaned Mr. Loft enough old rails to build the first mile of track. He purchased his first locomotive from another railroad that had planned to dismantle the engine for scrap. This and a half-dozen second-hand freight cars comprised the first train operated by the S.A.&A.P.
“There has been some tall financing in the history of rail construction in this country but nothing, which for real courage, rivals the story of Loft and the S.A.&A.P. Io the first mile of track was added an additional three miles through a trade for additional rails which a street car company had purchased from a narrow-gauge company. On this basis a credit trade was made with the Pennsylvania Rolling Mill Co. for ten miles of new rails. When they arrived in San Antonio Lott had to borrow money to pay the freight bill.
“At one time Loft made a trip from San Antonio to Chicago to secure financial help without a cent in his pockets. But through grit and determination he secured the funds necessary to build what is today a part of the great Southern Pacific System.”