Old Southern Pacific Depot
Corsicana, Navarro County Texas


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Old Southern Pacific Depot
by Wyvonne Putman
Originally published in "The Navarro County Scroll", Vol. XXI 1979
Reprinted with permission of the Navarro County Historical Society

Created through struggles of influence and power, the railroad tied together isolated villages, opening the way for commerce.  The history of the Southern Pacific Railroad is a paradigm of the history of Texas.

The railroad depot is perhaps the most eminently recognizable of all American buildings.  Sometimes the depot builder constructed a shrine to reflect grandeur such as the Vanderbilt statue found at Grand Central Station.   A source of pride, the stations many times were edifices of massive confections of brick and stone.  In the Eastern states, some of the greatest architects of the day build the depots.

The Southern Pacific depot in Corsicana was built in 1895.  Each brick is stamped "Corsicana" and was made by the Whiteselle Brick and Lumber Company.

J. E. Whiteselle was born in Obion County, Tennessee, December 31, 1851.  He moved to Neches, Texas at the age of 18 and made his home with his aunt, Mrs. P. W. Ezell, whose husband was a lumberman and merchant.   Whiteselle excelled in penmanship and he filled all the lumber shipments.  One order went to F. W. Carruthers of Corsicana.  Mr. Carruthers inquired about the shipping clerk which ultimately brought J. E. Whiteselle to Corsicana in 1875.  He was young, energetic and had a good business ability.  It was not long until J. E. Whiteselle was the owner of the company.  Mr. Whiteselle was devoted to helping people.  His interests were varied.  He was owner of Whiteselle Brick and Lumber Company, which manufactured and sold brick and lumber on a large scale.  He was a large stock holder in the following: Central Texas Grocery Company, Royall Coffee Company, Fortson-Polk Grocery Company, Corsicana Cotton Mills, various banks including the First National Bank of Corsicana.  He also helped in developing oil in Corsicana and was one of the organizers of the Texas Lumberman Association, serving as president in 1911 to 1912.  He died December 31, 1915.  Whiteselle Brick and Lumber Company is owned by stockholders today.

On December 16, 1836, the Texas Railroad Navigation and Banking Company obtained the first charter in Texas, issued by the Republic of Texas.  It was never constructed.  This was followed, in 1838, by the Houston, Brazos and Galveston, who contracted 3,000 cedar or oak ties in 1840.  This charter was secured from the Republic of Texas as Harrisburg Railroad and Trading Company, January 9, 1841.  While never built, the railroad made a preliminary survey to the Pacific Ocean by way of El Paso and San Diego over the route later surveyed by the Army engineers and ultimately used by the Southern Pacific.

During the ten years Texas was a republic, 1836 - 1846, three railroad charters were issued but the whistle of a locomotive was not heard until 1851.

The Buffalo, Bayou Brazos and Colorado, BBB&C, was the first railroad in Texas and ultimately a link in the southern Pacific Sunset Route.

In May of 1851 the BBB&C was first in Texas and second west of the Mississippi river.  That same year a surveyor, John H. Williams, arrived from Boston to lay out the route.  He chose Harrisburg (now a part of Houston but then a bitter rival) for the starting point and set the gauge of tracks at 8 feet 8 1/2 inches.  The gauge of track set in 1851 became the standard gauge and used by all states.

By 1855 the BBB&C had reached the Brazos, 30 miles away.

Another Texas line deeply embedded in the Southern Pacific was the Houston and Texas Central, which started life as the Galveston and Red River Railway.  It was chartered in 1848, however the rails were not built until much later.  Therefore, the BBB&C won the right of blowing the first locomotive whistle in Texas.

The Houston and Texas Central Railroad, H&TCRR was the first railroad to merge from the financial demoralization of the Civil War.   In 1868 construction was resumed.

In 1871 the H&TCCR reached Corsicana.  A committee led by Alexander Beaton, worked diligently securing the right of way and contributions.  A spirit of progress was awakened within a short time.  The railroad officers were welcomed by Col. C. M. Winkler.

Alexander Beaton was born in Inverness, Scotland in 1820.  He moved to America in 1843 and settled in Navarro County on March 16, 1850.  Corsicana had a population of some 100 in 1850.  Major Beaton worked in the county clerk's office under R. N. White studying law at night.  After receiving his law degree he and R. Q. Mills became law partners.  In 1852 Major Beaton married Miss Elizabeth J. McKinney.  His home was located in south Corsicana on a hill which became known as Gem Hill.  Major Beaton discovered many beautiful gems which became a part of the famous Gem Hill Collection.

Efforts to locate this collection have been fruitless.  Historical records indicate the collection was donated to a state museum in Austin many years ago.

Beaton Street was named for Alexander Beaton because of his work in securing the railroad for the citizens of Corsicana.  He died in 1899.

Two passengers on the historic train in 1871 were destined to become giants in the mercantile business.  Alex and Phillip Sanger built the first Sanger Brothers store in Corsicana.  The store was located at 101 North Beaton.  According to the late Carl Mirus, historian, the Sanger Brothers safe was found when the store was tore down.  Also, Mr. Mirus said on one anniversary, the Dallas Sanger store ran an ad in the Corsicana Daily Sun requesting anything from the first store.  The Dallas store displayed the exhibit during the celebration.   The State National Bank is located on the site of Sanger Brothers store in Corsicana.

One of the early towns of Navarro County was named for C. M. Winkler.  Winkler is situated in the southeastern part of the county near the Trinity River.  Capt. Winkler was born in North Carolina in 1820.  He moved to the McKinney Inn in Corsicana in 1847.  He married the widow of Thomas L. Smith, Mary Louisa Smith, in 1848.  He was elected a member of the Second Legislature of Texas and assisted in the organization of Navarro County.  Capt. Winkler recruited the Navarro Rifles in the spring of 1861.  They trained at a camp near Spring Hill, Navarro County.  His company was the first to be formed in the county in response to President Davis' call for three regiments of volunteer infantry from Texas and was the first to leave the country for active service.  Capt. Winkler was promoted to Lt. Col. April 29, 1864.  The Navarro Rifles consisted of 127 officers and enlisted men.

Returning to Navarro County, Col. Winkler was appointed Judge of the 13th District in 1866.  In 1876 he became a judge in the Court of Appeals.  He was a Mason and a member of the Methodist Episcopal church.  He died in 1882 and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, a part of the original 100 acres deeded to Corsicana in 1848.

On June 9, 1894, Corsicana signed a contract with Johnson, Aiken and Rittersbaker to drill a water well.  This well was drilled on South 12th Street.  Oil was struck at 1,035 feet, producing 2 1/2 barrels a day.   The city fathers were very disgusted; they wanted water, not oil.  Two months after mayor Jim Evans' term had expired, his contract was to change history. Mayor Evans was mayor from April 1892 to 1894.  He procured the 1600 pound fire bell which was big enough and loud enough to summon all fire fighters in Corsicana.  This beautiful old fire bell stands proudly in front of the Corsicana Fire Department today.  It was preserved through the efforts of Fire Chief Duane Womack and the Navarro County Historical Society in 1975.

February 1899 Standard Oil Southwest Marketing handled products from the Corsicana refinery.  A local office was opened with Aaron P. Robinson as general superintendent.

The first shipment of oil created visions never to be forgotten for that special group of citizens who had shared the responsibility that was to designate Corsicana home of the first commercial oil field west of the Mississippi. The Southern Pacific railroad played a vital role in the oil story of Corsicana.

The predominance of the depot in the community is gone forever.  Once the hub and heart, these transient buildings are revered in memory.  Virtually everyone over forty, born in a small town, has fond memories of the depot.

W. H. Ford said the Southern Pacific railroad was more than a railroad.  He called it "the most diversified transportation system in the United States."  The Southern Pacific depot agent ruled and he was a formidable figure.  He brought the news first, sold tickets, manhandled freight on and off cars, mastered the intricacies of baggage checks and waybills.  The drummers (salesmen) passed their stories and complaints to the agent.

The Malloy Hotel in Corsicana was located on Commerce Street and was a favorite place for the drummers.  News, mail, Sears Roebuck catalogues, strangers, relatives, new school teachers, scandalls, the circus, all were a part of the story of the railroad.  The financiers who played a large role in filling the West with railroads range from honest supersalesmen like Jay Cooke to unscrupulous manipulators like Jay Gould, whose policy was "I don't build railroads, I buy them", to America's most powerful banker, J. P. Morgan.

The Historical Society wishes to preserve this heritage for future generations.

 


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Copyright March, 2009
Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox