Webster’s Dictionary defines railroads as “a permanent road having a line of rails fixed to ties and laid on a roadbed and providing a track for cars or equipment drawn by locomotives or propelled by self-contained motors.” That definition is very boring. U.S. railroads have a rich, interesting history. Built through backbreaking labor over the course of decades, they were an essential element of 19th century commerce, whether via transportation or the sale of land. Travelers had few other options for crossing the continent, and no other method proved anywhere near as timely as railroads. The SWC is fortunate to have many documents created by railroad corporations and affiliated individuals that reveal intriguing portions of that industry’s history.
The digitized images above come from a publication entitled The Great South-west: an illustrated monthly, published by the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. The first image from volume 7, issue number 3 dates from 1879 and depicts the cover of the Great South-west, most of which is a description of the many sights observable on a train ride through their territory. The second image is of a timetable sheet designed to assist passengers in planning their trips and, of course, making it to the station on time. The rest of this issue can be found here.
“For fine lands and cheap-priced lands, the State of Texas can, perhaps, beat the world,” reads the first line of volume 8, issue number 1 (just above). Much of the content in this 1881 issue, which can be found in its entirety here, concerns the sale of land along the railroad route. Land sales were often as important a method of income for railroad developers as the actual movement of freight. Real estate opportunities existed along all rail lines, the massive size of which can be seen in the image below, which traces the route of the Missouri-Pacific (MoPac) Railway.
These images are but two among hundreds of similar materials at the SWC. Two full collections of records from the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway (1905-1973 and 1910-1986) document that company’s activities for nearly a century. The Texas and Pacific Coal Company Records, 1889-1979 as well as the Fort Worth and Denver Railway Company Photograph Collection represent another large portion of our railroad holdings. Lastly, the Robert Wright Armstrong Papers, 1868-1975 contains correspondence, photographs, financial and legal material, and other items pertaining to Armstrong’s business, political, and personal activities as a railroad executive. Taken altogether, these collections provide a wealth of opportunities for interested researchers.
The entirety of the publications discussed above, as well as many other digitized collections, may be found here. Our Reference Department will happily provide access to our physical holdings as well.