Texas Railroad History - Tower 44 and Tower 167 - Hillsboro

Tower 44: A Crossing of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, the Trinity & Brazos Valley Railroad, and the St. Louis Southwestern Railroad

Tower 167: A Crossing of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad and the Texas Electric Railway

Above: This image of Tower 44 comes from photo MKT224 of the John W Barriger III National Railroad Library. The view is facing south. Dual Katy Railroad main lines from Dallas and Ft. Worth enter Hillsboro from the north. The track to the left of the tower is the Trinity & Brazos Valley line coming from Mexia heading north to Cleburne. The crossing track is the Cotton Belt from Corsicana entering from the east and crossing to the west side of the Katy tracks where it turned south and terminated in Hillsboro. This photo was probably taken in the early to mid-1930s.

Hillsboro (spelled Hillsborough until changed by the Post Office in 1888) was established as the county seat of Hill County in 1853, well before the arrival of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) Railroad. The MKT, commonly called "the Katy", built through Hillsboro from Ft. Worth in 1881, continuing south to Taylor in 1882 as part of their long term plan to reach the Gulf. Since the Katy also served Dallas, a decision was made to build a Dallas to Hillsboro line to provide a more direction connection between Dallas and points south. This was done under the newly chartered Dallas & Waco Railway which reached Hillsboro from Dallas in 1890 and was integrated into the Katy system in 1891. The Katy established shops in Hillsboro and built Katy Lake to provide a permanent water supply for steam engines. The shops were closed in 1930 in favor of larger facilities in Waco, but Katy Lake remains intact near the junction of the two Katy lines north of town. The Katy tracks through Hillsboro eventually became owned by Union Pacific (UP), which abandoned the line to Dallas in the 1990s (although the abandoned Katy bridge over Interstate 35 remained intact well past 2000).

The second railroad into Hillsboro was the St. Louis, Arkansas & Texas Railroad, an early component of the "Cotton Belt", a railroad eventually consolidated under the St. Louis Southwestern (SSW) Railroad corporate name. The Cotton Belt system had a major junction at Corsicana, and in 1887, they began constructing a branch line from Corsicana to Hillsboro. The last five miles was finished in 1888, including a crossing of the Katy near the junction of its two lines. Hillsboro remained the end of the line for this Cotton Belt branch and the route was abandoned in 1940. Portions of the former Cotton Belt grade near Hillsboro have been re-used as a utility right-of-way.

In 1902, the newly chartered Trinity & Brazos Valley (T&BV) Railroad established corporate offices in Hillsboro and began construction there, building southeast to Mexia in 1903 and northwest to Cleburne in 1904. In 1905, the T&BV was acquired by the Colorado & Southern Railroad which sold half of it to the Rock Island railroad under the control of B. F. Yoakum. Yoakum was also the CEO of the St. Louis & San Francisco ("Frisco") railroad. Yoakum used the T&BV charter to build from Mexia to Teague, and from Teague south to Houston and north to Waxahachie where trackage rights to Dallas were obtained from the Katy. This created a direct route between Dallas and Houston via Teague for the benefit of Yoakum's other railroads. Although this line is now a major route for Burlington Northern Santa Fe, it was initially unprofitable, a contributing factor to the T&BV entering receivership in 1914. Receivership ended in 1930 under the newly organized Burlington-Rock Island Railroad. After abandonment of the lines from Hillsboro to Cleburne (1932) and Mexia (1935), only the Houston-Waxahachie main line and a branch from Teague to Mexia (abandoned 1976) remained from the original T&BV construction. Many sections of State Highway 171 between Mexia and Cleburne are built on the former T&BV right-of-way, and State Highway 22 occupies the T&BV right-of-way between Interstate 35 and downtown Hillsboro.

The other interlocker in Hillsboro was Tower 167. The RCT Annual Report for 1931 lists Tower 167 as a new interlocker "Under Construction" to protect a crossing of the Katy and the Texas Electric (TE) Railway. This was part of an effort undertaken by the TE to install interlockers at three railroad junctions, the others being Tower 165 in Corsicana and Tower 166 in Plano. This branch of the TE was a Dallas-Waco interurban line with tracks that ran down Waco St. in Hillsboro. It entered Hillsboro from the north parallel to and south of the Cotton Belt tracks to reach its Hillsboro station at 105 N. Waco St. Presumably, the Tower 167 interlocker was located where the TE crossed the Katy on the south end of town although the precise location of this crossing remains to be determined.

Left: The above Sanborn Fire Insurance index map from 1911 shows the routing of the three "freight" railroads through Hillsboro (the Texas Electric is not shown). They all ran parallel through downtown on a north/south heading with the Katy in the middle (the name is not annotated on this map.) The SSW entered from the northeast, crossing the other two railroads and then terminating with a track along the west side of downtown. From the east, the T&BV entered Hillsboro on the south side of town, paralleled the other two railroads through downtown, and then crossed both railroads north of town, heading toward Cleburne. Tower 44 was established in 1904 when the T&BV's construction to Cleburne needed to cross the Katy and Cotton Belt lines near the existing Cotton Belt/Katy diamond which was previously uncontrolled (all trains must stop). Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) records list Tower 44 as a mechanical interlocker with 28 functions. By 1935, the T&BV had been abandoned through Hillsboro and thus, when the Cotton Belt was abandoned in 1940, the interlocker would have been retired. It is likely that the tower structure was relocated or razed soon thereafter.


Above: This image is a photograph of a Katy track chart owned by Bruce Blalock, former Katy engineer of Smithville. In this chart, west is "up" and Tower 44 is the black rectangle adjacent to the crossings. It is apparent from this chart that the Katy retained two main tracks past Tower 44 for the Fort Worth and Dallas lines. The routes separated approximately a quarter mile further north. Below: This image from the 1925 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Hillsboro shows Tower 44 adjacent to Covington Street. Left to right, the tracks are Cotton Belt (main), Cotton Belt (spur), Katy (Ft. Worth main), Katy (Dallas main), and T&BV (main) closest to Covington. The map shows that the tower was located before Covington St. ends with a right angle turn onto Chenault St. This is consistent with the presence of a concrete bridge abutment for the Cotton Belt which remains well hidden in the trees next to Covington St. and is consistent with the Katy track chart above showing the tower south of the Cotton Belt crossing. Magnification of the Sanborn image shows a two-story "Signal Tower".

Above: Ken Stavinoha sends this scan of a cabinet card he obtained many years ago from a long time collector. The image depicts a tower under construction, and the card has the word "Hillsboro" written in pencil on the reverse side.

Above: This view of Tower 44 from the Barriger Library looks north and appears to have been taken some years after the photo at the top of this page. A small hut is now visible behind the tower, about where the T&BV tracks would have been located. The Cotton Belt tracks are barely visible crossing at an angle, most easily spotted at left passing behind the house and the light colored structure at far left. The T&BV was abandoned in 1935, and the Cotton Belt was abandoned in 1940. Post-1940, the tower was no longer necessary, so this image may be from the late 1930s. Below: This Barriger Library image is also looking north. The hut is more easily visible where the T&BV tracks used to be.


Above: Looking northeast from near downtown Hillsboro, the current UP main line curves northeast and then back to due north. Tower 44 would have been visible in this photo prior to 1940. Concrete abutments can be found in the stand of trees to the right where the Cotton Belt bridged a small creek close to the Tower 44 crossing. Sanborn maps of Hillsboro show the Cotton Belt serving the business at left. Below: The Katy depot at Hillsboro is now a Chamber of Commerce office. (both photos by Jim King)

Above: A "bird's eye view" of Hillsboro looking north.

Last Revised: 2/16/2014 - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.