Abandoned Railroad from Tyler, through Gresham and Flint, to Bullard and Rusk
Those of us that have made the trip down Old Jacksonville Highway, heading south from Tyler to Bullard, have noticed the abandoned railroad right-of-way on the west side of the road. The rail bed is still visible in 2017 in Gresham, Flint, and in downtown Bullard.
Legacy Trails to Gresham
On July 12, 2016, the City of Tyler's half-cent sales tax board approved its annual budget.
Approved items include the design of the new Legacy Trails project, which will extend the city’s trail system from Cumberland Road to Gresham, using the abandoned railroad corridor on the west side of Old Jacksonville Highway. The city plans to spend $494,000 next year. The project is scheduled for completion in 2020.
The Kansas and Gulf Short Line Railroad Company
The Kansas and Gulf Short Line Railroad Company was chartered in 1880, to connect Tyler with Sabine Pass in Jefferson County. In 1881, the company acquired the property and franchises of the Rusk Transportation Company and its 17 mile line between Rusk and Jacksonville.
Part of the roadbed of this company was utilized by the Kansas and Gulf Short Line during the construction of its line between Tyler and Rusk, which was completed on December 12, 1882. The remainder of the line, about 44 miles between Rusk and Lufkin, was completed about July 1, 1885, giving the company ninety miles of mainline, narrow gauge tracks between Tyler and Lufkin.
On April 29, 1887, the company was sold to the St. Louis, Arkansas and Texas Railway Company. Both companies entered receivership on May 13, 1889 and were subsequently sold at foreclosure to Louis Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald conveyed the former Kansas and Gulf Short Line to the Tyler Southeastern Railway Company on January 13, 1891.
Tyler Southeastern Railway
The Tyler Southeastern Railway Company was chartered on January 12, 1891, to acquire and operate the Kansas and Gulf Short Line Railroad Company, which it converted to standard gauge track by September, 1895. In that year the company owned eight locomotives and 198 cars and reported passenger earnings of $38,000 and freight earnings of $86,000.
Cotton Belt and Southern Pacific
Cotton Belt Building, housing the general offices of the St. Louis Southwestern Railway, 1517 West Front Street, Tyler, Texas (TylerTexasOnline Staff Photo)
On July 1, 1899, operations of the Tyler Southeastern were assumed by the St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company of Texas, which merged the company on October 6, 1899.
This line, commonly known as the "Cotton Belt", continued to encourage and support the growth of East Texas, including helping farmers convert to a tomato crop after a blight destroyed the peach industry.
Harold J. McKenzie, the president of the Cotton Belt, moved the general offices of the railway to Tyler. A building to house the railway general offices was dedicated on March 22, 1955. Smith County purchased the Cotton Belt building in 1985, and continues to use the building today.
In 1926, tomatoes become the area's cash crop with over 8,000 acres being grown. Jacksonville is still known as the Tomato Capital of the World. In 1932 the Southern Pacific purchased controlling interest in the Cotton Belt.
Gresham is located six miles south of Tyler on Old Jacksonville Highway (2493) at the intersection with Farm road 2813. The community was established in 1877 as a shipping point on the railroad. A cotton gin was in operation by 1900.
Flint, at the junction of Old Jacksonville Highway (2493) and Farm roads 2868 and 346, lies just south of Gresham and four miles north of Bullard in Smith County.
The site, named for local landowner Robert P. Flynt, became a stop on the Kansas and Gulf Short Line Railroad in 1882. The post office began operations in 1887 as "Flint" since the local postmaster misspelled the town name on the post office application form.
Abandoned Cotton Belt Route still visible near Gresham, Texas, close to The Crossings
In 1890 Flint had grown to have a general store, three cotton gins, a physician, and a population of twenty-five. By 1902, 100 families were engaged in truck farming, and shipped 85 railroad cars of tomatoes and large amounts of cabbage, cantaloupes, and peaches.
The town supported a blacksmith shop, a telephone exchange, a telegraph service, two mercantile companies, a cotton gin and gristmill. By 1914 local farmers shipped record amounts of nursery stock, fruit, and tomatoes from Flint, and the town had six general stores, a bank, and a newspaper, the Flint Weekly Reader. The Great Depression greatly injured the business of the area.
Bullard is located at the intersection of U.S. Highway 69 and roads 2493 (Old Jacksonville Highway), 2137, and 344, 12 miles south of Tyler in extreme southern Smith County. Parts of the town today are located in Cherokee County.
The William Pitt Loftin family settled in the area around 1850, and the Etna post office, located to the west of the current town, opened in 1867. In 1870 John and Emma Eugenia Erwin Bullard settled in the area and in 1881 opened the Hewsville post office in his general store. In 1883 the Etna post office closed and the Hewsville office was renamed Bullard.
Bullard, Texas Depot of the St. Louis & Southwestern Railway, the Cotton Belt Route
The Bullard railroad station was completed in August 1884 by the Kansas and Gulf Short Line Railroad.
The community became a shipping point for cotton, vegetables, and fruits. By 1890 the town had a sawmill, two general stores, a physician, a smithy and wagon shop, a telegraph office, cotton gin and gristmill.
By 1892 Bullard had added a grocer, a constable, a justice of the peace, a druggist, a physician, a feed store, schools, and a new general store.
In the 1920s additional business opened including several packing sheds, restaurants, a movie theater, and boarding houses.
A portable jail, seven feet in diameter and made of a barred round tank on wheels, held prisoners until the county sheriff could escort them to Tyler. In the post-World War II years Bullard again became a shipping point for fruit and vegetables.
Today, the railroad is abandoned, but Bullard is experiencing exponential growth as a "bedroom community" for Tyler, and a successful renewal of many of its downtown buildings.
An East Texas Farm Home at Bullard, Texas on Cotton Belt Route
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