1947 Annual Report Issue
Management's Report to You on Last Year's Operations
"Partners with the Katy"
A Village Grew Into a Town Because I Got a Railroad
By J. Garland Smith
A handful of old-timers, mostly farmers and retired
railroad men, sit in the sun in a tiny, bleakish Kingston, Texas, watch
the trains go by and ponder about how it might have been. They are
the last survivors of a city which used to boom, but which today is the
limbo of its own ghost. Their town, for the most part, is four miles
north up the Katy at Celeste.
Two events in railroad history sixty-two years ago, reluctance to grant a right-of-way and a presumptuous forecast of business trends, resulted directly in the slow death of Kingston and the immediate birth and economic prosperity of Celeste. These incidents, both apparently insignificant in 1885 but highly important in recorded history, also have made quite a difference in the shape of things from Denison to Greenville along the Katy.
When the M-K-T span from Denison to Greenville came through in 1879, Kingston was a sprawling township of early eight hundred persons, approximately the size of Celeste today. Agriculture, land sales, and railroad construction provided the income. Real estate dealers carved out city blocks, and carpenters threw up houses. The Katy put down an extra siding to handle freight shipments. The federal government authorized a post office. A bold, straight-shooting editor, Bill Howard, established Kingston's first weekly newspaper and campaigned for prohibition. Enterprising merchants replaced frame structures with brick. Progress demanded material expansion.
But Kingston's growth was to be short-lived.
In 1885, representatives of the Santa Fe asked for right-of-way grants to extend their line from Paris to Dallas; Kingston, already a thriving business center, was the logical point for the Santa Fe to cross the Katy. Kingston landowners, however, refused to make concessions.
"There was some excitement about the matter at the time," recalled Ira Murton England, eighty-six year old Tennessee pioneer, who settled on a farm near Celeste in 1873. "Farmers around Kingston held a mass meeting to talk over the problem. I was present at the meeting myself. Tom Culver, who owned much of the land east of the Katy tracks around Kingston, led the farmers in their action to refuse the railroad. Culver was a success in his business. What he said was good enough for the other farmers."
Santa Fe engineers, denied the Kingston crossing, pushed the railroad through from Ladonia southwestward and crossed the Katy tracks on the open timberland four miles to the north. Most of the land on which Celeste stands today was purchased from W. L. Stewart. Railroad officials sold lots to the highest bidders at public auction April 7, 1886, and donated sites for churches and a school. England bought two lots and constructed the first house in the north section of Celeste.
"Up to this time Celeste hadn't even been given a name," England said. "Nobody really had thought much about it. But everything was booming. The town was big enough in 1886 to be identified, and we had to have a name. Finally, as a thank-you gesture for the railroads, the people named the town in honor of the daughter of a Santa Fe official."
Celeste, on the boom and suffering acute growing pains, sounded the death note for Kingston. The decline was slow in the beginning. Few noticed the gradual drop in population until more and more small businessmen packed up merchandise on dusty shelves and transferred operations to Celeste. In 1896, ten years after the town was founded Celeste definitely was the "Saturday town" where farmers, firmly settled on the cotton-rich blacklands for which Northeast Teas is famous, hauled abundant harvest for shipment to faraway markets.
"They began selling real estate and other property in Kingston for less than they paid for it," England said. "Most of the town's eight-hundred persons just disappeared. Most of them came to Celeste, and a few went to other places unaware that they were killing Kingston. Howard, the editor, got into a fight with the wets, defended himself with a shotgun, then went out of business and moved away. The school went down when business went down."
Where the ghost walks is evident today in Kingston. Weeds grow in the alleys once intended for streets. Grass covered the former site of the post office. Even most of the old-timers have forgotten the exact location of the hotel, the bank, various churches, and the town hall. All of the brick structures are gone.
"I used to run a grocery story where you see that brick scattered on the lot," remarked red-haired, seventy-three year old Milton Lewis Seabolt," retired Katy section foreman who has lived in Kingston since 1919, as he viewed the ruins which used to be main street. "We had to go out of business. They tore the building down for the brick. There used to be a whole row of brick buildings here. I saw the post office die. The Katy siding has been gone so long I don't remember exactly when they took up the rails. Kingston is still a flag station for two trains, but nearly everybody goes to Celeste to get aboard."
Celeste capitalized immediately in the death chant of Kingston. First edition of the Celeste Courier, weekly newspaper, was published in 1886, four months after the public land auction. Publication was suspended during World War II because of the shortage of newsprint and labor. Billy Perkins revived the newspaper on the same second-class mailing permit March 1, 1946. By 1913, Celeste's population had soared to 1,250, and by 1929 had leveled off substantially to eight hundred. Celeste also became famous for its financial soundness. Modest, shrewd S. R. Granberry is president of Celeste First National Bank, one of the strongest in Texas.
Katy Supplied Lifeblood
Katy traffic supplied the lifeblood for economic development; Katy employees provided the town's civic leadership. Men who worked for the Katy steadily earned a reputation for the progressiveness by holding out for better schools and better churches.
The story of Eugene T. Brady, Sr., veteran of forty-six years in the railroad business including thirty years with the Katy, is virtually the story of Celeste itself. Brady, a sixty-three year old native of Wisconsin and Katy agent, is a jolly, systematic individual with a golden heart who thinks nothing of giving $1,000 to each of his three children as Christmas gifts. He has been a member of the board of the Celeste Public Schools for twenty-five years and has served as chairman for the last fifteen years.
"I have always taken a great interest in education. believed in it and supported it," Brady said. "Good schools give young men a chance to get ahead and be somebody it they want it. Good schools have made Celeste a solid community, solid from the foundation to the rafters."
Schools Help Katy
Supporting education with time, effort, and money admittedly has paid off for Brady in both private and community life. A son, Eugene T. Brady, Jr., is district attorney at Greenville. A daughter, Miss Lurline Brady, is a professor of education at the University of Texas.
Brady insists, however, that community progress is far more important than his family welfare.
"I'll tell you how education has kept us going," he explained. "We used to ship ten thousand bales of cotton out of Celeste every year on the Katy. But today, we ship only about 3,000 bales. If we hadn't learned something down through the years, we wouldn't have hay and clover seed now to take the place of cotton." "Hay and clover make up for the loss of cotton."
Another example of how the lives of railroad men are interwoven with the lives of Celeste farmers and merchants is H. L. White, telegraph operator and Katy employee for twenty years. White didn't put his name on the ticket, but last April the citizenry elected him mayor.
"I couldn't be a mayor in the real sense of the word, if I wanted to," White said between telegrams in the control tower. "I don't try to govern these people. I just live with them and work on the railroad."
Picture: A railroad can do a lot for a town,
and the people who built Celeste, Texas knew it. Because they did,
their new town grew, while a once-prosperous community nearby died when
its citizens failed to encourage the railroad to come in. The other
community, Kingston, is almost a ghost town today, while Celeste has eight-hundred
people and is thriving. Katy employees have provided the town with
civic leadership for a good many years.
Picture: Meet the Major--He is H. L. White, Katy telegraph operator for twenty years. Mr. White is an example of how the lives of railroad men are interwoven with the lives of Celeste farmers and merchants. He didn't ask the voters for the job, and didn't even put his name on the ticket. Celeste citizens elected him mayor anyway.
Picture: School Boss at Celeste is Eugene T. Brady, Sr., a Katy veteran of forty-six years and agent there. He has been a member of the school board for twenty-five years and its chairman for the last fifteen. He has helped give the community some excellent education advantages.
Picture: Pioneer Ira Murton England, eighty-six, was present on April 6, 1886, when Katy officials sold lots to the highest bidder in a rich, blackland cotton field. This was the beginning of Celeste. Mr. England built the first house in what is now North Celeste and has lived in that community since. He is a retired farmer.
Picture: When a Katy Freight rolls in Celeste, Texas, it brings more to the town than just the noise of a whistle and a locomotive exhaust. The people of Celeste know the Katy as a friend of sixty-nine years standing--a friend that enabled them to build their town into a thriving community at the expense of a less progressive village nearby. For the story of what the railroad as meant, and still means, to one town, the accompanying article by an East Texan who knows the facts about that part of the Lone Star State. (All Photos by William Rhew) (April, 1948, M-K-T Employees' Magazine, pp 6, 7, 11; courtesy of Theda Compton Lacy)