Texas Railroad History - Tower 16 - Sherman

Crossing of the Texas & Pacific Railway, the Houston & Texas Central Railway, and the St. Louis - San Francisco Railroad

Above: Tower 16, photographed by Larry Paul shortly before it was decommissioned

Sherman was an early settlement in Texas, chosen for its location near the center of the newly authorized Grayson County in 1846. The Houston & Texas Central (H&TC) Railway arrived from the south in 1872 as it built from Dallas through Sherman, heading for the Red River several miles further north. That same year, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT, "Katy") Railroad bridged the Red River and built five miles south to the newly founded town of Denison (named for a Katy vice president), providing rail connections to St. Louis and beyond. This was a boon to the economy of both Denison and Sherman and they grew rapidly. In 1890, the Katy built their own tracks from Denison to Sherman under a plan to build south to Dallas. As was Katy's practice, this was done under the charter of a new railroad, the Sherman, Denison & Dallas Railway, which the Katy then acquired when construction was complete (but the line was never extended to Dallas.)

In 1873, the Texas & Pacific (T&P) Railway built 54 miles from Sherman to Brookston, the initial segment of an east/west line that was completed into Texarkana in 1876. This construction arose from a route strategy that had been established many years earlier by the Texas Legislature when it created charters for the predecessor companies acquired by the T&P. Those charters called for two parallel routes from Texarkana to Ft. Worth consisting of a southern route south to Marshall and then west to Ft. Worth, and a northern route paralleling the Red River to Grayson County, and from there southwest to Ft. Worth. From Ft. Worth, a single line would then be built to El Paso. Continuing with this plan, the T&P built a Sherman-Ft. Worth line in 1880.

In 1880, the T&P was controlled by railroad baron Jay Gould who also controlled the Katy. A year earlier, the Katy had built (under the newly chartered Denison & Pacific Railroad) a line west from Denison to Gainesville that passed through Whitesboro, about 17 miles due west of Sherman. Gould directed that T&P's route from Sherman to Ft. Worth would proceed west to Whitesboro and then south to Ft. Worth. A T&P/Katy connection was established in Whitesboro effectively creating a direct route between Denison and Ft. Worth for the Katy. Gould quickly sold Ft. Worth trackage rights to the Katy to support this connection. The line passed through the town of Denton, north of Dallas, which Gould saw as a connecting point for service to Dallas (the T&P, of course, already served Dallas with its main east/west line from Texarkana via Marshall.) Under T&P ownership, Gould bought the bankrupt Dallas & Wichita Railway and extended it 17 miles north to Denton. The T&P then sold this Dallas-Denton line to the Katy in December, 1881, giving the Katy its own route between Denison and Dallas via Whitesboro and Denton.

In the late 1880s, Gould's control over the Katy lapsed and the Katy's Texas holdings were then consolidated under the newly chartered "Missouri-Kansas-Texas of Texas Railroad" in 1891. The T&P and the Katy continued sharing the expense of maintaining the Whitesboro-Ft. Worth line, an arrangement that lasted for decades until both were consolidated under common Union Pacific (UP) ownership, but elsewhere they were competitors. This appears to have motivated the T&P to construct their own line to Denison from Sherman, which they did in 1896 under the charter of the Denison & Pacific Suburban Railroad. The tracks went eight miles north to Denison departing from the T&P main line three miles east of Sherman.

In 1886, the St. Louis, Arkansas & Texas (SLA&T) Railway took over the bankrupt Texas & St. Louis Railway and converted its tracks from narrow gauge to standard gauge. The SLA&T's primary route ran from Texarkana to Mt. Pleasant, then southwest to Tyler, Waco and beyond. To capitalize on the burgeoning rail activity at Sherman, the SLA&T built 109 miles from Mt. Pleasant to Sherman in 1887. The main line connection at Mt. Pleasant gave the SLA&T a direct route between Sherman and Texarkana that essentially paralleled T&P's line. Financial problems ensued, and by 1891, the SLA&T had gone through receivership and been acquired by the St. Louis Southwestern (SSW, "Cotton Belt") Railway.

The last major railroad to enter Sherman was the St. Louis San Francisco ("Frisco") Railway. The Frisco had routes throughout Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and its General Manager (as of 1897), B. F. Yoakum, decided to enter the north Texas market as part of a larger plan to exchange traffic with other railroads he controlled in south Texas. With an agreement to share the Katy bridge over the Red River, Frisco built five miles from the bridge to Denison, where they were able to negotiate a trackage rights agreement with the H&TC between Denison and Sherman. A Frisco-sponsored railroad, the Red River, Texas & Southern Railway, was then chartered to build from Sherman to Ft. Worth. Construction southwest from Sherman stopped in 1902 at Carrollton in north Dallas County because trackage rights on an existing Cotton Belt line from Carrollton to Ft. Worth were available. In 1908, another Yoakum railroad, the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, built an 11-mile connector from Irving, on Rock Island's east/west line between Ft. Worth and Dallas, north to Carrollton, giving the Frisco "Yoakum-controlled" connections to Dallas and Ft. Worth.

By the early 1900s, Sherman was served by five major railroads: 1) the H&TC, which had become a component of Southern Pacific's (SP) extensive route system in Texas and the West; 2) the Katy, which had service to St. Louis to complement its large network in Texas serving Dallas, Houston, Galveston, Waco and San Antonio; 3) the T&P, which operated two routes from Texarkana to Ft. Worth, and from there to El Paso; 4) the Cotton Belt, which radiated out from Texarkana to Sherman, Tyler, Waco, Dallas and Ft. Worth; and 5) the Frisco, which had a significant route network in Oklahoma and Texas, and complementary operations elsewhere in Texas controlled by B. F. Yoakum.

Above Left: This 1914 Sanborn Insurance Map of Sherman has been annotated to show the five railroads serving Sherman. Tower 16 is shown at the H&TC/T&P crossing. West of the tower, the Katy crossed the T&P within the T&P's "yard limits", so no interlocker was necessary. The short green Cotton Belt line connecting to the purple Frisco line at the bottom of the map was a spur that allowed the Cotton Belt to reach its passenger station which was located along Frisco's tracks at the corner of East and Lamar (about where the number "26" appears on the map.) Above Right: Tower 16 is shown as a "2" (two-story) "Signal Tower" on this image from the 1914 Sanborn Insurance map of Sherman. The tower was in the northwest corner of the crossing. Sherman's Union Station sat across the T&P tracks south of Tower 16.

Below: This 1915 Katy track chart (courtesy, Ed Chambers) shows the complex arrangement of tracks in Sherman.

The reason the Cotton Belt depot ("St.L.S.W. Depot" in the above image) was located along the tracks of the Frisco ("St.L.S.F.&T.Ry." in the above image) resulted from the fact that the Cotton Belt preceded the Frisco by more than a decade. These were the Cotton Belt tracks originally. Steve Goen explains..."The tracks in front of the Cotton Belt depot were originally all Cotton Belt but at the point in time that the Frisco reached Sherman some type of agreement was reached in which the Frisco got off the SP, passed thru town on this trackage and then split again south of town. I suspect that ownership of the trackage may have passed to the Frisco at this time. The Frisco used Union Station as well as did the T&P and the SP. The SP bowed out first, ending passenger service on December 15, 1935. Both the T&P and Frisco continued to use Union Station until around 1947-1948 when they moved out and it was torn down. The T&P rebuilt their freight depot into a combination passenger station at that time and it remained open until July 6, 1950 when the Texarkana-Bonham-Ft. Worth trains came off. As for the Frisco, they did like the T&P and added passenger areas to their freight depot downtown. They did the same at Denison when they moved out of the Katy depot and started using their own freight depot."

One of the largest route networks in Texas in the early 20th century belonged to the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway through its various Texas subsidiaries. Santa Fe never built tracks into Sherman, but they did serve Sherman for some period of time using the Cotton Belt tracks. Santa Fe's line from Dallas to Paris crossed the Cotton Belt in Wolfe City, less than 40 miles southeast of Sherman. Santa Fe arranged to share the Cotton Belt tracks from Wolfe City to Sherman at least at early as 1901. The 1901 edition of Poor's Manual of Railroads lists "Wolfe City to Sherman, Tex. (leased)" as a component of the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe (GC&SF) route network, while the 1908 Annual Report of the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) lists "Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe, track of -- St. Louis Southwestern Railway of Texas, Wolfe City to Sherman" in a table of trackage rights. Both sources state the distance as 38.7 miles. Whatever the arrangement between the two roads, lease or trackage rights, Santa Fe's service to Sherman apparently did not last long. The 1908 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Sherman shows a joint GC&SF/Cotton Belt depot, but the 1914 map omits the GC&SF.

Above Left: This image comes from a 1911 Santa Fe map that highlights all of GC&SF's routes in Texas including the Wolfe City-Sherman segment over Cotton Belt tracks (courtesy of Baylor University Digital Collections, hat tip Sam Myers.) Above Right: The 1908 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Sherman labels the Cotton Belt depot as a joint "GC&SF & St.LSW RR Passenger Depot". Note that the tracks are misidentified as "St. Louis & Santa Fe"; they actually belonged to the "St. Louis San Francisco" (Frisco). As noted above, the Cotton Belt depot was adjacent to Frisco's main line. Below: an October 2016 Google Street View of the Cotton Belt depot in Sherman

Despite the sizable rail infrastructure in Sherman, only one major interlocker was ever commissioned, Tower 16, authorized for operation on July 18, 1903. It was located in central Sherman where it protected the crossing of T&P's east/west line and H&TC's north/south line. The interlocker was an electronic plant with 35 functions and 31 levers built by the Taylor Signal Company. Tower 16 was a standard SP design and was operated by SP personnel for most of its history. RCT Annual Reports had always listed H&TC and T&P as the only railroads sharing costs at Tower 16, but the 1924 report added the Frisco. This may have been merely an administrative notation. Since Frisco shared SP's line to Denison past Tower 16 and had tower-controlled switches nearby to access the main line, they had likely been sharing the cost of the tower's operation for many years. The only other interlocker in Sherman, Tower 186, was a minor interlocking plant built in south Sherman decades later.

Tower 16 continued to operate for nearly 100 years, but the rail landscape in the Sherman/Denison area changed significantly over that period. In 1993, SP exited the Sherman market when Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) bought SP's line from Denison to South Sherman Junction. BNSF was the successor to the Frisco; South Sherman Junction was where Frisco's line to Carrollton split from the SP main line. This ex-Frisco line from Denison through Sherman to Irving (and from there to both Dallas and Ft. Worth) remains an active BNSF line. The sale of SP's line to Denison included the tracks past Tower 16, so BNSF took over Tower 16 operations at that time. SP also divested its remaining line from South Sherman Junction as far south as McKinney. It is now operated by a short-line subsidiary of Genesee & Wyoming (G&W) Railroad. The line is severed south of McKinney (although tracks remain intact in many places), hence the only "direct" service from the Red River bridge to Dallas is via Frisco's line through Irving.

T&P's east/west line fared little better than SP's north/south line. The tracks west from Sherman to Whitesboro were abandoned in 1992, but the former "joint" line between Ft. Worth and Denison via Whitesboro remains in heavy use by UP. To the east, the T&P tracks were abandoned in various segments as this line served no "through traffic" purpose and had limited on-line commerce. From Sherman, tracks remain intact as far as Bonham but are mostly used for a connection at Bells, about 12 miles east of Sherman. A former Katy line from Denison to Greenville passed through Bells and was abandoned north of there in 1988. The Bells junction was then restructured to provide a continuous track from Sherman to Greenville, now served by another G&W subsidiary. The tracks east from Bells are intact as far as Bonham but appear to be mostly used for car storage.

Tower 16 was retired on October 23, 2001. At the time, it controlled the BNSF line from the Red River bridge to South Sherman Junction. As there was limited east/west traffic across the diamond, BNSF received approval from Federal regulators to retire the entire Tower 16 signal system under the condition that the diamond at Tower 16 be removed. To permit removal of the diamond and closure of the tower, a new connector track was installed in the northwest quadrant of the tower. This complemented the existing connector tracks in the northeast and southeast quadrants.

Myron Malone explains the activities surrounding the closure of Tower 16...

"For about 2 months prior to closure, signal and construction gangs had been working in the Sherman/Denison area to prepare for the closure. On October 23, 2001, a signal and construction crew started work at 8:00am. They first removed the diamond adjacent to the tower. Next they placed a new switch into position just north of the tower, activating the new connector track. A little after 9:00am, they knocked down signal Number 4, still showing red when it went down. Signal Number 3 was next. Both signals had to be removed to make room for the switch at the new connector track. The switch machines remotely controlled by Tower 16 were replaced by hand throw switches. About 11:00am, a contractor began the process of boarding up the tower. By 3:00pm, when the second trick operator arrived for work, the tower was closed."

Above Left: Tower 16 late in the day on October 23, 2001 (Charles Allen photo)  Above Right: Tower 16 had the fish-scale pattern common to many SP towers e.g. Tower 17. (Jim King photo)

Tower 16 Photos by Myron Malone

Above: looking east toward Paris at the tower in May, 1991. Above: south side of the tower.
Below: a view of Tower 16 looking northwest Below: Tower 16, December 1981

Above: undated photo of Tower 16 from the collection of Mark Nerren

Below: This 1940s view of Tower 16 looks south with Sherman Union Depot at right. (City of Sherman photo)


Tower 16 Photos From Don Harper

view from the tower looking south south side of the tower a friend of Don's at the crossing

Tower 16 Interior Photos by Larry Paul


Above: This map captures the site of Tower 16 shortly after its removal. The north/south BNSF line is easily seen with connecting tracks in three of the four quadrants.

Tower 16 Preservation Efforts
Tower 16 was sliced horizontally between the floors and relocated in two sections to Grapevine, Texas near the Cotton Belt Depot that serves as the Grapevine Visitor's Center. The tower was reassembled and repainted, and now sits in a parking lot adjacent to the tracks at 709 South Main St.

Above: Tower 16 is visible in a parking lot of the Grapevine Vintage Railroad on the southwest corner of the Main St. crossing of the former Cotton Belt tracks. The Cotton Belt depot is visible across Main St., north of the tracks.

Below: a January, 2017 Google Street View of the tower in Grapevine

Last Revised: 4/25/2018 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.