This week marks 145 years since the railroad first arrived in Arlington, Texas. It was a significant event that helped create our town and contribute to its growth. Local historians generally consider the train’s arrival to be the founding of Arlington.
Plans for a transcontinental railroad
In 1871, Congress granted a charter for a railroad across the southern United States, including a route through Texas. The Texas and Pacific Railway Company, often referred to as T & P Railroad, was given the charter. The east-west route in Texas would connect Marshall (near Louisiana and Arkansas) with El Paso to the west. The railroad was scheduled to connect the North Texas cities of Dallas and Fort Worth by January 1874.
Railroad construction began in 1872, with the line from Longview to Dallas in service by July 1873. Construction would soon come to a halt, though. The Panic of 1873, a financial crisis that led to a depression, affected the economy. Progress slowly continued, but the railroad eventually stopped at Eagle Ford, a settlement past Dallas and near present-day Grand Prairie. It was less than 30 miles short of connecting to Fort Worth, yet it would take another three years to complete.
Arlington gets its start
According to local journalist O.K. Carter, Arlington started like many small communities as “empty acreage on a railroad route.” [Carter, page 46] Railroads would often sell land to make new communities. Those communities, in turn, would rely on the railroad for shipping and transportation, which created both a supply and demand.
The railroad was initially going to pass near or through Johnson Station, an early settlement in present-day Arlington. It seemed logical because the site was already established, having a general store and post office. However, a landowner in the area supposedly refused. Surveyors had to determine another suitable route to continue westward. The site chosen would be three miles north of Johnson Station, in its present-day location.
Reverend Andrew S. Hayter
Reverend Andrew S. Hayter (1818-1900) arrived in the area with his family by 1869 and purchased land. Hayter, pronounced “High-ter,” was a Presbyterian preacher and land surveyor originally from Tennessee by way of Alabama. He founded two churches, a school, and a Masonic Lodge.
By early 1876, railroad construction resumed. Hayter was now working with the railroad as a consultant for surveying the land. He supplied trees from his land for building materials and even provided a place for railroad workers to camp. The railroad also sought his help in plotting a new half-mile-square settlement in between Dallas and Fort Worth. Yet, the new settlement, which would be located along the railroad, still needed a name.
“The Father of Arlington”
It’s believed that the railroad offered to name the new settlement after Hayter for his services — or at least give him naming privileges. Yet, it’s said that Hayter — and possibly Postmaster James Ditto, Sr. — suggested the name “Arlington” instead. The name was in honor of Robert E. Lee’s hometown in Virginia; Lee had served in North Texas at one point and met both Hayter and Ditto. The settlement would be known as Arlington sometime during 1876-1877, yet it wouldn’t officially incorporate as a town until April 21, 1884.
Note: The Texas & Pacific Railroad map earlier in this post references the town’s name as Arlington. The map is dated September 1, 1876. The name “Arlington” likely wasn’t widely recognized by other organizations until 1877. Yet, for reasons unknown, the settlement didn’t officially file the paperwork to be incorporated as a town until April 1884.
While some details of the town’s naming are unclear, Hayter’s impact on the railroad and how it affected Arlington’s future is not. His efforts likely helped lay the foundation for Arlington and its growth. As such, he would later become known as the “Father of Arlington.” Today, there is a Texas Historical Marker and a bronze bust of Reverend Andrew S. Hayter in Downtown Arlington, not far from the railroad tracks.
Railroad construction resumes while a deadline looms
Railroad construction resumed by January 1876, but time was of the essence. Officials would revoke funding if the railroad didn’t arrive in Fort Worth by the deadline of June 30. Heavy rains in early spring caused delays. Conditions improved, but the deadline loomed ahead. The community came together and even helped the railroad workers, sometimes working into the night with lanterns.
Tarrant County was able to get a two-week extension, but it still wasn’t quite enough. Yet, since only a few miles remained, officials granted one last extension of 72 hours. In a final effort, Fort Worth moved their train depot to meet the track. The railroad was finally ready to connect Dallas and Fort Worth.
The train arrives – July 19, 1876
People traveled for miles to witness the train’s arrival. It was an event that some thought would never happen, and for many, it was their first time to see a train. There was a great feeling of anticipation and even a celebratory feel — folks dressed in their finest and enjoyed picnics while clustering near the track.
Onlookers first heard the whistle and saw the smoke, with the train finally coming into view. As the train approached, accounts say that some parents had to hold their children back from running towards it in excitement — while others in the crowd were frightened as it came to a stop. I imagine the crowd collectively held their breath for a few tense moments. But, there was a sense of relief when the train conductor waved to the crowd. People cheered, and a celebration ensued.
Engine #20 of the Texas & Pacific Railroad arrived in Arlington around 9:00 AM. It was painted black with gold striping. It had polished brass and a red cattle guard — also known as a cow clearer. The locomotive pulled four cars with a crew of three men.
Arlington wasn’t the end of the line, though. The train soon left the station and continued west to Fort Worth. Accounts say it took around two hours to get there. It arrived at the Fort Worth station at 11:23 AM and was met with a similar welcome.
Local historians generally consider July 19, 1876, to be the date that Arlington was founded. Events certainly happened here before that date — and some of them were quite significant. But, the arrival of the railroad in present-day Arlington was a turning point.
The Railroad’s Impact on Arlington
As I’m learning more about local history, I now see how vital the railroads were to America. Railroads are still used today, of course, but their popularity began to diminish around the 1950s. The early days of the railroad, though, transformed more than America’s landscape. People, information, supplies, and goods could now be sent much faster by rail instead of the stagecoach. Commerce experienced a boom, while small towns often sprung up along the railroad tracks — including Arlington.
Arlington likely owes its existence to the railroad, as do many towns in America. Arlington would be known as a stop between Dallas and Fort Worth well into its 20th-century history — although it has carved its own identity over the years. Transportation would be a recurring element in Arlington’s history, with each advance having more of an impact. Despite the advances, the train still passes through Arlington today. Arlington had a few train depots over the years, although the most recent one was torn down in 1969. Yet, there is a section of the wooden platform that still exists. It’s part of our history, and there’s an application submitted to have it recognized with a historical marker.
The arrival of the railroad 145 years ago changed the course of Arlington’s history. Without the railroad, Arlington may not have grown to a city of 400,000 people. Towns were not only created by the railroads — they also lived and died by them as well. While July 19 isn’t typically celebrated in Arlington, it’s a day that changed our town forever.
Photos, postcards, and a model of the train depot – courtesy of the Fielder House Museum and Arlington Historical Society.
- Arlington High School – Texas History Class of 1958 (compiled by). The History of Arlington. 1958.
- Carter, O. K. Caddos, Cotton and Cowboys. 2012.
- Henning, Carol Werdman. Wild West Days of Arlington, Texas. 1972.
- Joyner, Arista. Arlington, Texas: Birthplace of the Metroplex. 1976.
- Nichols, Mike. Lost Fort Worth. 2014.
- Werner, George C. “TSHA | Texas and Pacific Railway.” TSHA, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/texas-and-pacific-railway. Accessed 19 July 2021.
Texas & Pacific Railway. A geographically correct map of the State of Texas: Compiled from actual surveys, and containing all changes in lines of counties up to Sept. 1st, 1876., map, 1878; St. Louis. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth193691/m1/1/?q=Texas: accessed July 22, 2021), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting University of Texas at Arlington Library.
T&P Train #20, photograph, 1876; (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth853367/m1/1/?q=T%26%20P%201876: accessed July 22, 2021), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting The Grace Museum.
Photos, postcards, and model of the train depot – courtesy of the Fielder House Museum and Arlington Historical Society.
Blog post by Jason S. Sullivan, 07-22-21