1894 Railroad Depot & Exhibits

200 S Kaufman St
Mount Vernon TX 75457
The St. Louis Arkansas & Texas Railroad Company surveyed a line through Mt. Vernon in 1886. The railroad’s charter was amended to allow construction of a line from Mt. Pleasant to Sherman.    Right-of-way was purchased along an east-west line just south of and running parallel with Mt. Vernon’s Main Street.

History

Deeds dating in early 1887 show the acquisition including a long section just east of Holbrook Street purchased from the Rountree family passing through the middle of the Rountree farm.  The property passing south of Mt. Vernon’s downtown was purchased from J.R. Turner. 

Construction passed through Mt. Vernon in 1887.  By the end of 1887, the line was completed for service into Mt. Vernon on standard gauge.  Within 20 years the railroad was commonly known as the St. Louis Southwestern RR Co., Cotton Belt Route. 

Other railroad charters included Mt. Vernon although none reached the town.  The East Line & Red River was chartered on March 22, 1871 to construct a line from Jefferson to Sherman via Avinger, Hughes Springs, Mt. Pleasant, Mt. Vernon and Sulphur Springs.  The charter was amended several times over the next six years with the line eventually passing through Daingerfield, Pittsburg, and Winnsboro enroute to Sulphur Springs. The Tyler TAP Railroad projected a line to Mt. Vernon but that charter was amended to pass from Gilmer to Mt. Pleasant and to Texarkana.  The Sulphur Springs & Mt. Pleasant was chartered in 1886 but no construction was ever commenced.  Another line, the Quitman & Great Northern was chartered in 1908 but there was no construction and the charter lapsed.

Architecture Style

Rail service through Mt. Vernon was instituted in 1888 and it became possible to ride passenger trains to Fort Worth in the west and Texarkana in the east, with stops along the routes. Connecting railroads provided service on across most of America. There must have been a depot given the advertisements for Mt. Vernon as a freight stop but by 1894, the substantial depot which remains today was constructed.

The bay window faced to the south (building located on the north side of the tracks). The year was 1894; the United States Supreme Court had just confirmed the “separate but equal doctrine” for separation of the races and a white waiting room was placed on the west end of the depot building; with the colored (the terms used at the time) waiting room between the office and the freight room. The building is pretty much the “cookie cutter” plan used for Cotton Belt depots across the south and many depots exist across Texas with the same floor plan and generally share the yellow paint with brown trim scheme which is exhibited in Mt. Vernon. The interior colors in Mt. Vernon are matched to wood scrapings and the building was restored to meet the standards imposed for restoration with federal funds for historical restoration and preservation projects.

Restoration

In the 1998 restoration of the building, numbers of tickets were found with cancelation stamps dated in 1894 from Mt. Vernon, Texas. Some of these tickets are framed under glass on display in the depot. The Hamrick construction crew pulled tickets and freight receipts out of cracks between floor boards where they had been preserved since falling a century before. And, even better preserved, were some ticket stubs found in the den of a packrat in the attic; brought down in a bucket by Richard Hamrick who realized the value of his find.

Several photographs of the Depot located along the tracks are on display within the restored depot.

Passenger train service began with one train in each direction daily. By the early 1900’s there were two passenger trains in each direction. In the late 1920’s three passenger trains in each direction were running daily. One of these trains was named the Lone Star Limited, the premier service offered to Dallas and St. Louis.

By late 1929, the rapid deterioration of finances in the country led to the suspension of the Long Star Limited service. Service was reduced to two passenger trains daily in each direction and this continued until 1952 when schedules were restricted with one train per day. Regular passenger service was discontinued in April 1956 and the last passenger service through Mt. Vernon ended in 1958.

A freight agent remained on duty until mid-1969 when the station and depot was closed. The station had provided telegraph service through 1945. After the end of World War II the telegraph service was abolished. The Depot office has period furnishings including a telegraphy desk and unit dating from the 1930’s. The railroad station-master’s desk is from the Clarksville Railroad Depot and was given to the Mt. Vernon facility by Rudy and Lou Ledeen in 1998. The Depot had no interior plumbing; water buckets are appropriately placed in the two waiting rooms and would have been utilized by the public with the dippers provided for each bucket. The rooms were heated by wood-burning stoves which fed into flues. The flues are of unusual construction with wood frames supporting brick flues to allow placement and operation of the stoves.

After 1969 the Bill Campbell family purchased the depot and moved it to a perpendicular location (forming a “T” running north from the tracks) about a block west of Kaufman Street. The building remained on railroad right-of-way and was under a lease with the Campbell family. After Bill Campbell’s death his son, Billy Campbell, gave the depot to the Franklin County Historical Association in 1990. In 1992 the Historical Association purchased the quarter-acre at the intersection of Scott Street and Kaufman Street from the Railroad Company and had the building moved to its present location. Betty Klein, Virgie Beth Hughes, and Jean Jordan came forward and provided funds to protect the building paying for movers and foundation work, a new roof, painting and some interior restoration. The Railroad was unwilling to leave the building on right-of-way and today we have the original “track” side of the building facing South Kaufman Street. In 1997 the St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company (by now controlled by Union Pacific with offices in San Francisco) offered to sell the remainder of the entire block along Kaufman Street from the right-of way and the historical association raised the money and purchased the present grounds. A 1998 federal restoration grant matched by the local historical association allowed for approval of a $184,000.00 project allowing the addition of an adjacent building for restrooms, and complete restoration of the depot. Richard Hamrick of Mt. Vernon was successful bidder for the project and the grand opening
was held in 1999 with an open house on December 31 that year.

When the Campbell Family purchased the building and moved it from its original location, they removed 24 feet on the west end of the freight room and two sets of loading ramps.  The roof line was shortened so and the building is not as long as it was in the decades while in use for rail service.  The Campbell family used the building for a retail feed store.  The historical association restored the depot as acquired and left the roof line in place.  Early pictures do show the freight room with double loading ramps and doors extending well beyond the present structure (which has only loading ramps and doors on each side and at the end of the freight room).

As a result of flooding east of Plano in 1989, the main line to Dallas/Fort Worth remains broken and remains unrepaired.  Under former Franklin County Judge Paul Lovier the railroad remains a viable source for commercial transportation across Northeast Texas and children can still see daily Blacklands Railroad Train Engines and Freight Cars making runs along the tracks which remain in continuous use after a century.

Outdoor Features

In 2000, Landon Ramsay gave the columns which had graced the front façade of the bank (now the library building on the square). In 2005, the Cecil Martin family (Pat Martin Wright and her brother Glenn Martin) gave an antique log cabin (corn crib) which is on the grounds. The John M. Hicks family gave their grandfather’s cane mill and ribbon cane has been crushed and syrup boiled down on the grounds in sporadic seasons since 2000.

Interior Furnishings

In 2017 and 2018, Jimmy St. Clair and Franklin County funded installation of a model train exhibit in the white waiting room with buildings installed in the exhibit which are copies of buildings in Mt. Vernon in the year 1958, the last year of any passenger service passing through Mt. Vernon. Jerald and Mary Lou Mowery spear-headed a team of volunteers spending thousands of hours in painting figures and buildings for the exhibit and preparing exhibits in the other rooms in the building.  Cynthia Loftis, another volunteer, coordinated creation of exhibits in the freight room which reflect the history of the town and the relation of the depot and transportation.


In November 2018, the entire commercial district of Mt. Vernon was named to the National Register of Historic Places and the Railroad Depot is a highlight among the buildings within the bounds of the Historic District.  Call 903-537-4760 to arrange a tour.  Come experience the nature of an earlier Texas with a visit to Mt. Vernon.  

The research for this article is based in an article and program presented by Charles E. Harris, Railroad Historian of Longview, Texas.