By Tom Hymer
Chairman, Fannin County Historical Cornmission
[undated newspaper article]
The first railroad in Fannin County was the Transcontinental, a division of the Texas And Pacific Railroad. It operated from Texarkana to Fort Worth by way of Clarksville, Paris, Honey Grove, Bonham, Sherman and Denton. The first passenger train arrived in Bonham in 1873.
When the daily passenger trains arrived they were met by a newspaper reporter ready to get the names of arriving and departing passengers to print in the “Personals” of the paper. Two express wagons, the American Express and the Wells Fargo, met the trains. The express wagons were of a van type, each pulled by one large horse.
A cab, an enclosed vehicle with two benches facing each other with an aisle between, and the entrance at the back, also, met all passenger trains. The cabs were pulled by teams of horses and were usually owned by livery stables. The cab fare was usually 25 cents.
In the early days, the railroad station was a center of activity. There were six passenger trains each day through Bonham. One of the trains was named the “Cannon Ball.” It was a fast train and stopped only at the larger towns. As a boy, about seven years of age and living near Randolph, I remember after a day in Bonham and the family started home, we children were warned not to eat the cheese and crackers, the bananas or candy until we crossed the railroad track because everyone must be alert for the “Cannon Ball”. The last passenger train into Bonham made its run in 1950.
On the evening of December 24, 1872, a twenty five year old Irish-American, Pat Tobin, tied down the whistle of locomotive No. 15 and took the first regular train ever to enter Texas from the north screaming over the Red River Bridge. In the Denison News, December 26, 1872, appeared this story . “The first through train from the north over the M.K.&.T. Railway arrived in our city at seven o’clock Christmas night. There were two passenger coaches and one Pullman Palace car with the train, and over 100 passengers. Santana and Big Tree, the celebrated Indian Chiefs, were on the train in charge of officers and remained over night in Denison. They are being taken back to prison at Huntsville.”
Jay Gould, of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, gained control of the M.K.&.T. in 1874. R. S. Stevens, general manager of the M.K.&.T. resigned and proceeded to organize this Denison and Southeastern railroad with authority to build a railroad from Denison to Mineola, through Greenville. Construction started in 1877 and reached Whitewright in 1878, where it stopped. In 1880, the Denison & Southeastern completed the line to Greenville, establishing two new towns in Fannin County, Trenton and Leonard. In 1881, the Dension and Southeastern sold out to Gould's Missouri Pacific. In 1889, Gould lost control of the railroad and it again became the M.K.&.T. or "Katy.''
The "Katy" at one time operated five passenger trains south and five north through Leonard and Trenton. In 1939, the “Katy” was operating four trains each way daily. These trains ran from St. Louis and Kansas City to San Antonio and Houston. The trains operating in 1938 were the Texas Special, the Blubonnett, the Katy Limited and the Katy Flyer. The railroad was Leonard’s largest employer. In addition to the agent there. were three telegraph operators, three warehousemen, a clerk, a ticket agent
and eight to ten track maintenace men. Passenger train service ended in 1965.
THE “COTTON BELT” RAILROAD
The third railroad to serve Fannin County was built in 1887. It was the Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas and extended from Commerce to Sherman. The railroad was to be known as the “Cotton Belt” and later as the St. Louis Southwestern officially. It brought about the establishment of two new towns in Fannin County, Bailey and Randolph. The railroad provided a passenger train service of four trains daily. For many years, this service consisted of a Motor Car that made two round trips daily between Commerce and Sherman. In 1953 the "Cotton Belt” ceased to operate and the tracks were taken up and the right-of-way sold to the Texas Highway Department upon which was built SH 11.
THE SANTA FE
In 1886, the Santa Fe Railroad built a line from Dallas to Ladonia and extended it to Paris in 1887’. It also built a line from Honey Grove to Ladonia. For many years a mixed train, passenger and frieght, was operated from Sherman to Honey Grove by way of the “Cotton Belt” from Sherman to Wolfe City and thence to Ladonia and Honey Grove. The last passenger service was provided by “Old Bob” a train of an engine and one passenger car. The railroad was discontinued from Ladonia to Honey Grove, in 1938. As a result of this railroad the community of Bagby wa established in 1895.
THE DENISON, BONHAN AND NEW ORLEANS RAILROAD
The 1905, “Nellie" wasn’t exactly a deluxe model as a passenger train. It had a couple rickety cars, and at first was a baggage and passenger unit. It chugger from Sherman through Denison to Bonham on a couple of round trip daily.
The D.B.&.N.O. was incorporated January 27, 1887 but did not become operative until 1905 from which time until 1923 was operated by the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad. A group of business men, headed by Don Penn, purchased the railroad in 1923 and continued operation for five years. In 1929, they decided to abandon the line and take up the track.
The railroad served Ravenna and Spies Switch, Fannin County as well as Bonham.
The advent of the railroads to Fannin County brought rapid growth, population growth. The population grew from 13,000 in 1870 to 50,00 in 1900.
This article was compiled from Fannin County Facts and Folks, a history Fannin County; Bonham, The Era has-gone-But Memories Linger On, a history of Bonham by Mrs. Lucille Hackley; and the History of Leonard, 1880-1980, by Tom Hymer, Chairman of the Fannin County Historical Commission.