Burton Railroad Depot

 

1856:  The Houston & Texas Central Railroad (H&TC) is incorporated in Houston.

1886:  A railroad from Brenham to Austin is planned by the H&TC Railroad as an extension of the Houston-Brenham    line.  The Brenham Banner-Press on October 1, 1886, published an application for convict labor to build this new stretch of rail.

1869:  On June 29, 1869, John and Elizabeth Burton sold 330 1/3 acres of land situated on Indian Creek to W.R. Baker, W.J. Cutchins, F.A. Rice and A. Groesbeck, who were trustees appointed March 22, 1868, to the management and sale of lands and town lots known as H and TC Trustees lands. Work on the new railroad begins in April.  The track bypasses the thriving community of Union Hill on La Bahia Road, two miles north of nowadays Burton.  Most of its population relocates to the new town on the railroad and, finally, the old community vanishes.

1870:  As interim terminals are being established, Burton becomes the terminal of the Houston and Texas Central (H&TC) from November, 1870, to October, 1871.  The Brenham Banner-Press publishes a change of schedule indicating that "the train going west is leaving Brenham at 2:30 pm so as to connect with the stage coach leaving Burton for La Grange, Bastrop, Austin, San Marcos, New Braunfels and San Antonio".  This change was advertised until October 1871.

1871:  In December, the new 93.69 mile long track from Brenham to Austin is completed.

1872:  In a letter to his son in Arizona Thomas Derrick writes, "The train cars are running within 400 yards of my house on to Austin.  Our depot is at John M. Burton's, and is also called Burton".

1898:  March 24, 1898 a fire was started at the Knittel Store, directly across from the depot.  The wind was out of the north, but changed directions and the fire spread across the street and destroyed the depot. It was first discovered by a brakeman on board the westbound mixed train.  The train was due in Burton at 2:00 am, but was an hour or more behind time.  The shrill whistle of the engine and shouts from the train crew and passengers soon aroused the sleeping city, but not until the roaring flames had gained in volume to an extent which prevented the gallant fire fighters from making headway against them.  Burton had no regular fire department, but in this emergency every man and boy there able to shoulder a bucket volunteered to do battle with the devouring flames.  The present depot was built some months later in 1898.

From then on until the late 1950's four passenger trains stopped in Burton each day; two eastbound to Houston and two westbound to Austin.  Beside passenger cars, each train had a car for packages, mail, suitcases and trunks checked by passengers.  While in route the mail was sorted by the mail clerk and separated into bags to be left at each stop.  The train engines on this stretch ran on coal.

Coal was also used to heat the waiting rooms and the agent’s room of the depot.  The baggage room was not heated. 

In olden days, the importance of a depot, especially to a small town, cannot be overstated.  It was the towns link to the rest of the world, communications headquarters (telegraph office), as well as a gathering place for the community.  

Countless travelers, bales of cotton and other agricultural products, cattle and lumber, as well as numerous tons of miscellaneous merchandise passed through this building during the many decades of its use as a depot.

The depot agent was an important man whose duty, among others, was to send and receive telegrams.  The telegraph instruments were set up in the bay window for the agent to be able to look out and see the trains approaching from north or south.

Many people took advantage of travel by train.  From Burton, they could ride to Brenham, Houston, or Austin and transfer to other lines.  During World War I trains were an important means of travel for service men as well as the general public.  Although Texas joined the railroad “race” later than other states, by 1911 it had more railroad mileage than any other state.  And in terms of the railroads responsible for this travel, by 1920 Texas had around 30 separate railroads that would eventually be absorbed by the Southern Pacific Railroad.  In 1934, Southern Pacific merged six such railroads, including HT&C, into one subsidiary, the Texas & New Orleans Railroad (T&NO). Through the T&NO, Southern Pacific could link the “Pacific Lines” to the west and the "Cotton Belt" to the east.  Travel by train increased during World War II since rationing of gasoline and tires made train travel necessary.

However, over the next 10 years the automobile and good roads made train travel seem slow; so during the 1950’s passenger train ridership steadily declined. December 8, 1951, saw the final eastbound passenger train depart Austin.  With no passenger trains, depots were not needed.  The Burton Depot was sold in 1961 to the highest bidder and moved to another location.  That same year another part of Texas rail history ended as the T&NO was completely absorbed into the Southern Pacific Railroad.  The Interstate Commerce Commission decided February 14, 1980, to approve the Southern Pacific Transportation Company’s request to abandon the track between Brenham and Giddings.  The last train thru Burton was on June 1, 1980.  The tracks were removed in the Burton area in 1982. 

In May 1990, after being used for several different purposes, the Burton depot was moved back to its original location and restored, just after it turned 100 years old.   The Burton Heritage Society owns and maintains the depot and museum.

The historic Burton Depot is located in downtown Burton, Texas at 507. N. Railroad Street.