Texas Railroad History - Tower 32 and Mariposa Tower - Beaumont

A Crossing of the Texas & New Orleans Railroad and the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway

The Texas & New Orleans (T&NO) Railroad was the Southern Pacific (SP) operating railroad in Texas and Louisiana. Their main east/west line, the famous Sunset Route, passed through Beaumont where it crossed a Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe (GC&SF) Railway line at Tower 32. This Santa Fe line had originally been the Gulf, Beaumont and Kansas City Railway, a railway chartered by east Texas timber magnate John H. Kirby. The line was built in 1894 to bring lumber from Kirby's east Texas mills to the port of Beaumont. It eventually extended as far north as Roganville via Silsbee, and was sold to Santa Fe in 1899. Today, Union Pacific (UP), successor to SP, owns the former T&NO tracks while Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) owns the former GC&SF tracks.

Historic Photo, Tower 32
         
Above: From a photo taken by R. D. Evans, March 8, 1956                                        Above: SP train #2 about to cross over Santa Fe tracks at Tower 32 in early 1950; image from
as it appears in Texas & New Orleans Color Pictorial by Steve Allen Goen,              Robert Pierce at Southwest Rails (with a hat tip to Jimmy Barlow)
Four Ways West Publications, 2004; used with permission

Another tower stood only two tenths of a mile from Tower 32, but it was never numbered by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT). It was called Mariposa Tower by Santa Fe, and is only known by reference to a letter written by Santa Fe to RCT discussing plans to close it. It appears to have been located at the intersection of Orange St. (S. Mariposa Ave.) and Cement St. in Beaumont near the triangular junction of three Santa Fe lines. The north line was the former GB&KC line to Silsbee and Roganville. The southwest line went to Port Bolivar via Winnie and High Island. This line had originally been built by the Gulf & Interstate Railway in the mid-1890s, but was abandoned between High Island and Port Bolivar in 1900 due to the great hurricane that struck Galveston that year. The line was eventually rebuilt and acquired by Santa Fe in 1908. The third line went southeast into downtown Beaumont and terminated at the Santa Fe depot.


Above: This overview map of the tower locations in Beaumont shows the main line junctions. Tower 32 became unnecessary in the
1960s when SP and Missouri Pacific (MoPac) began sharing their lines west of Tower 74, using a new connector track (off the edge
at left) to bring the MoPac line parallel to the T&NO line. This allowed MoPac to abandon their original route west of Tower 74.
East of Tower 74, SP began using the MoPac line via Gulf Coast Lines (GCL) Junction and KCS Tower ("K") to cross the KCS
bridge over the Neches River. This allowed SP to abandon their bridge over the Neches leading to Tower 31 where the T&NO main
could be rejoined heading to New Orleans. The T&NO main line was then abandoned between Tower 32 and Tower 31, although
some tracks may have remained in place for awhile to serve existing customers. The Santa Fe line remains intact, but the route to
the southwest only serves customers in the Beaumont area and is abandoned beyond Fannett. The former Santa Fe tracks near
Mariposa Tower ("M") are all gone, including the line into downtown.

Tower 32 Site Photos

Above: Location of the Tower 32 crossing in Beaumont as seen in August, 2004. The tracks in the weeds are remnants of
the former T&NO main line to the east. (photo by Jim King)
Below: Bird's eye view of the Tower 32 crossing facing north. (Microsoft Virtual Earth).

Historic Map, Tower 32

Above: Tower 32 shows up on the 1929 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Beaumont. In addition to the main Santa Fe north/south track, there
was also a north/south T&NO track that crossed the east/west T&NO main at Tower 32 (small square at bottom center of map).
Below: Magnification confirms that Tower 32 was a 2-story structure with an outer staircase on the north side of the building.

 

Observations by Gary Williams:
The diamond at Tower 32 was removed December 14, 1998. ...In more recent times it was a gate controlled crossing. The track that was the the main to New Orleans had become an industry track. ...The old foundation of Tower 32 is still there. It is located between this track and the abandoned Santa Fe track that went to the downtown depot on the corner of Neches St. and Crockett St.

Mariposa Tower Site
 
Above: Mariposa Tower is the small square building located in the exact center of this image taken from the 1929 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Beaumont
(rotated so that due north is up). The tower is just below the slanted line (Santa Fe main line) that crosses the image. This main line curves due north toward
Silsbee just west of where this image cuts off (near the "35"). The tracks departing the image at right run parallel a short distance east (off the map) and
then split into two sets of tracks. One set curves northeast into downtown Beaumont to reach the Santa Fe depot. The other set curves south to a connection
with Kansas City Southern and the Gulf Coast Lines at GCL Junction. Two Santa Fe connecting tracks merge just below the bottom of the image and
proceed southeast toward Winnie. Mariposa Tower does not appear in the next earlier Sanborn map, dated 1911, narrowing the time of construction to the
period between 1911 and 1929. It is shown on the 1929 map as a 3-story "R R Signal Tower".
Below: Bird's eye view of the site of Mariposa Tower. Based on the detail from the Sanborn map above, the tower would have been
near the center of this image.

Photo Below: Frank Fertita wonders whether Mariposa Tower might actually be the watchman's tower at Calder Ave. [edited from multiple emails]
"I looked for the site that the Sanborn map showed for the "Mariposa Tower" and there is absolutely nothing in that field to indicate that there was ever a tower at that location. ... The Calder Avenue watchman's tower was...situated between the tracks of the Southern Pacific's branch line up to Dallas and the Santa Fe's line to Silsbee...located three blocks north of the foot of Mariposa viaduct which spanned the T&NO main line and was located in a far more heavily-travelled part of town. I believe that it could have easily been known as the Mariposa Tower due to its proximity to the viaduct and Mariposa Street itself (two blocks to the east.) Note that the Sanborn location is adjacent to Orange Street which is at the south end of the viaduct. ... If I am wrong about the Calder tower being the Mariposa Tower...that would mean, of course, that there were two identical watchman towers that the Santa Fe built circa 1929 bracketing the Mariposa overpass. Frank may be on to something. Although the tower identified on the Sanborn map was undoubtedly a real structure (surely the cartographer couldn't have been off by several blocks!), the map clearly shows a 3-story structure like the Calder Ave. watchman's tower in the photo below. There are no other known interlocking towers in Texas that were more than two stories. This raises two possibilities: 1) the structure on the map is not the Mariposa Tower mentioned in correspondence and is likely a second watchman's tower bracketing the Mariposa overpass, i.e. Mariposa Tower was somewhere else, or 2) it was Mariposa Tower and it was built as a watchman's tower, but took on additional train management duties of such importance that Santa Fe felt compelled to notify RCT of its plans to retire it (as we have no other evidence of any notification to RCT of any plans to retire a watchman's tower anywhere in Texas, and there were many such towers in urban areas.) RCT correspondence at DeGolyer Library needs to be reviewed to see whether there are additional details pertaining to Mariposa Tower's location and function.

photo courtesy of Frank Fertita

 
Last Revised: 2/23/2018 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.