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Matagorda County Railroads

Mr. H. G. Castleton


The Cane Belt Railroad


Taken from "The Railroads of Matagorda County" by Guy Claybourn, Historic Matagorda County, Volume I


The Cane Belt Railroad Company, eventually to become the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe, was chartered on March 4, 1898, and was built south from Eagle Lake. The charter was amended to call for an extension to the tidewater of the Gulf of Mexico via Bay City, Matagorda County's new county seat. It was generally thought that the Cane Belt had Freeport, at the mouth of the Brazos River, as its objective. To forestall such an extension, it was said that the New York, Texas & Mexican Railway (eventually to become the Southern Pacific) built the Hawkinsville Branch beginning at Van Vleck. The line was known as the "Hawkinsville Tap."

In order to obtain the Cane Belt service, it was necessary for Bay City to put up a bonus. The Townsite Company deeded a number of unsold lots to the railroad builders. A. H. Pierce put up $5000 as a further bonus, for which he also was given some lots. Under the terms of the bonus, July 1, 1901 was the date set for the operation of the passenger train into Bay City. Late in the day of June 30, 1901, track-laying crews--consisting of some three to four hundred convicts from the State Prison Farm--reached the outskirts of the town. Immediately the construction train's engine backed up to Lane City, picked up a couple of coaches, and returned to Bay City that night with the first passenger train, thus complying with the terms of the bonus.

The Cane Belt Railroad, as it was called (now Santa Fe) came into Matagorda in December, 1901.  George B. Culver worked hard to have the line extended into Matagorda to the "turn around" or end of the line. He gave the land for the depot and tracks. This old iron horse "the Try Daily" was the only "religious" train anywhere around. It ran six days a week--between Sealy and Matagorda--but rested on the seventh day.

For years the "Cane Belt" ran a "Saturday Special" for those all along the line to come to Matagorda to enjoy the cool Gulf breeze and dance until midnight at the old pavilion. These young people (with their mothers as chaperones) came with large trunks filled with beautiful dance dresses and stayed at the old Matagorda Hotel on the Bay. Some would leave on Monday but most stayed over the several weeks to enjoy those fabulous Saturday night dances at the pavilion.

By reaching Matagorda, the Cane Belt fulfilled the term of the charter for a tidewater terminus between the mouths of the Brazos and Colorado rivers.  In 1919 one of the world's largest deposits of sulphur was discovered at Gulf Hill, six miles east of Matagorda. The sulphur industry furnished a tremendous amount of traffic for the Cane Belt rail line until the late 1920s. In 1948 the Cane Belt line became the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe (GC&SF), itself under the control of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. Tracks from this line continue to serve two chemical plants as well as the South Texas Nuclear Project.

New Bay City Depot

Santa Fe At Work on Handsome Modern Structure.

The Santa Fe has this week started to work upon a modern and very handsome depot building.

The structure is to be between Fifth and Sixth streets, and to be of concrete with tile roof, and modern in every particular. On north end will be an open porch with seats in the shade, and the first section will be the waiting room for the whites, about 25x30 feet, with large double plate-glass windows at the front and rear entrances, and then beyond the ticket office is the waiting room for the colored people, on much the same plan but not so large, the ticket office between having ticket windows, and all the conveniences necessary. There are toilet rooms for both white and colored people, remote from each other. Then at the far end toward Fifth street is an express and baggage room ample for all purposes.

The workmen are now driving piling for the seat of a large water tower, on the bank of the creek, to the southwest of where the building will be, which will supply the water for the building and to irrigate the flower yard which will be a most attractive feature of the grounds, with its palms and other semi-tropical plants.

When finished the depot building and grounds will be one of the handsomest and most modern in Texas, and that will mean much.

The people of Bay City will much appreciate the public spirit of the Santa Fe in this great improvement.

The Matagorda County News and Midcoast Farmer, September 5, 1916


Copyright 2006 - Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
All rights reserved

Oct. 19, 2006
Oct. 21, 2006