Speaker Series: by Stephen Benold, M.D.

Stephen BenoldThe Coming of the Railroads to Williamson County: Summary of Presentation by Stephen Benold

The Williamson County Historical Commission sponsored the second event of a series labeled "A Toast to our Past" at the county courthouse in Georgetown on February 27, 2020. The title of this event was Railroads and Suffragettes. Dr. Benold's railroad talk was the first of two presentations that evening.

There have been a couple of population surges in Williamson County over the years. The most recent was caused by the arrival of technology companies to Central Texas. The earliest, however, was caused by the coming of the railroad in the late nineteenth century.

Railroads were the technology of the day. Nothing moved faster than an animal could carry it for thousands of years until suddenly steam engines began pulling massive loads at unheard of speeds.

Building a railroad has always been expensive. In the nineteenth century, without government oversight, one could issue more bonds and shares without the assets to back them. Doing so, Moses Taylor in 1872 merged two railroads in Texas to form the International and Great Northern (I&GN).

In the 1870s, Texas needed immigrants and they came from Europe and from southern states where properties had been ruined by the Civil War. It turned out that there was plenty of fertile land in Central Texas creating crops that needed to be shipped elsewhere. So, the railroad pushed from Hearne to Stiles Switch (Thrall), Taylorsville (named after Moses Taylor, of course), Fran Switch and Hutto Station, arriving in Round Rock on the Chisholm Trail in 1876.

A group of businessmen in Georgetown, including Emzy Taylor, Thomas Hughes, J.J. Bennett and David Love, organized the building of a tap line to Round Rock. It was so costly, it went bankrupt and was purchased by the I&GN. It was a boon to Georgetown, of course, bringing in forest products for construction and all kinds of merchandise.

Then came Jay Gould who had the Missouri Pacific Railroad and decided to grab a monopoly on all railroads coming into Texas. He gained control of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (MKT) and the Texas and Pacific Railroad. He extended the MKT into Williamson County from the north in 1882, founding Bartlett and Polack (Granger). It tied into existing tracks that connected to Taylor and the I&GN. Oh, the I&GN had previously gone into receivership and had been bought by Jay.

Other railroads included a narrow gauge from Austin to Bagdad (Leander) that hauled the granite used to build the capitol in Austin. Another one went from Bartlett to Florence, operating from 1910 to about the 1920s.

After the 1900s, America began changing from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy and Williamson County went to sleep for 70 years until the next technology erupted.

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