History

Railroads in the Hill Country

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Railroads in the Hill Country

By John Hallowell

Railroads turned some small Hill Country towns into boomtowns, but sounded a death knell for others. Either way, the course of Hill Country history was forever altered. The arrival of the railroad, beginning in the 1880s, changed the course of Texas Hill Country history. No longer could the rugged landscape keep civilization at bay. Fifty years earlier (in 1830), the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad had established the first network of rail service in the eastern United States, and its 536 miles of track played an important role in the Civil War. After the war, the nation focused its energy on creating a transcontinental railway – a project which was completed in 1869. In the meantime, railroads were spreading across east Texas, arriving at Austin and Waco in 1871, then creating a major inland city at Dallas, when north-south and east-west railroads met there in 1873. San Antonio finally obtained rail service in 1877.

Railroads in the Hill Country

Photo: texashistory.unt.edu

In 1878, rail service was extended north from Austin to Georgetown, on the eastern border of the Hill Country. In 1880, service was introduced from San Antonio to New Braunfels; that line was joined from the north by the International-Great Northern Railroad through Austin and San Marcos in 1881. Also that year, a line was built west from San Antonio through Castroville, Hondo and Uvalde – a line at the edge of the hills which still serves as the southern boundary of our Hill Country map.

Railroads in the Hill Country

Photo: roundrocktexas.gov

But the first real venture into the heart of the Hill Country was the rail line built by the the Austin and Northwest Railroad company from Austin to Burnet in 1882. That line made Burnet into a Hill Country boomtown as a shipping center for all towns west, and spawned a brand-new town — called Bertram, for one of the railroad executives – along the way. Also in 1882 the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway built a line from Temple to Lampasas, bringing commerce and tourism to the town famous already for the healthful qualities of its sulphur springs. Lampasas was transformed from a rowdy cattle town into a popular and elegant resort, sometimes called the “Saratoga of the South.”

Railroads in the Hill Country
Photo: en.wikipedia.org

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