Texas Railroad History - Tower 61 and Tower 123 - Jefferson

Tower 61 - A Crossing of the Texas & Pacific Railroad and the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad

Tower 123 - A Crossing of the Texas & Pacific Railroad and the Jefferson & Northwestern Railway

Historic Photo, Tower 61

Above: This photo, provided by Ed Joseph courtesy of the Jefferson Carnegie Library, shows a view of Tower 61 in the west quadrant of the crossing. The photo was annotated at some time in the past to identify the "T.P. Ry" rails (left of diamond) and the MKT rails (annotation between the rails in the shadow of the tower.) A special thanks goes out to the library staff and Normal Buell for locating this photo!

Jefferson was one of the first railroad towns in Texas, a natural extension of its role as a navigable river port. Prior to the Civil War, the Memphis, El Paso and Pacific Railroad did some construction in the Jefferson area. After the war, the remaining assets of this line were acquired by the Texas & Pacific (T&P) Railway building from Texarkana through Jefferson to Marshall in 1873. About that same time, the East Line and Red River (EL&RR) Railroad was chartered as a narrow gauge line by Jefferson business interests to build to the Red River via Sherman. Construction began at Jefferson in 1876 and was completed to Greenville in 1880. The EL&RR became a property of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT, "Katy") Railroad in 1881, but a court proceeding challenged the legality of the transaction; the EL&RR ownership was forfeited and it was placed in receivership. While in receivership in 1892, the line was converted to standard gauge and sold to the Sherman, Shreveport and Southern (SS&S) Railway which had been organized for the purpose of acquiring the EL&RR assets. The SS&S extended the line 30 miles east to Waskom in 1900. In 1901, the Katy acquired the SS&S, resuming the ownership that had been attempted 20 years earlier.

In 1905, Tower 61 was formally established at the junction of the Katy and the T&P lines on the northwest side of Jefferson. In 1923, as a result of a reorganization of the Katy, its line through Jefferson was sold to the Louisiana Railroad and Navigation (LR&N) Co. which named the railroad the Louisiana, Arkansas & Texas (LA&T) Railway. Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) annual reports began listing LR&N instead of MKT as the railroad crossed by the T&P at the Tower 61 interlocker. In 1929, the Louisiana and Arkansas (L&A) Railroad acquired the LA&T. The L&A was later merged into the Kansas City Southern (KCS) Railroad which continues to operate the line today. The T&P was acquired by Missouri Pacific Railroad and is now operated by successor railroad Union Pacific (UP). As a junction of KCS and UP main lines, the site of Tower 61 continues to see significant rail traffic.

A third railroad began serving Jefferson in the 1890s. It was originally a tram line constructed in 1891 by Clark & Boice Lumber Co. to bring logs from nearby pine forests to its mill on the east bank of Big Cypress Creek Bayou immediately east of Jefferson. The mill eventually had connections to both of the railroads in Jefferson for shipping wood products. Later, the decision was made to extend the tram line further into northeast Texas and convert it to a common carrier. The Jefferson & Northwestern (J&NW) Railway was chartered for this purpose in 1899, but it continued to operate as a Clark & Boice tram line. S. G. Reed, in A History of the Texas Railroads, described it as "twenty miles of narrow gauge road leading to nowhere". It was not until the rails were widened to standard gauge and the line extended into Linden around 1910 that the J&NW began to act like a common carrier. The J&NW applied to the RCT for common carrier status on November 27, 1911, and RCT Circular No. 4044 issued on April 10, 1912 officially recognized the J&NW as a common carrier. On October 13, 1925, Tower 123 was commissioned as an 8-functional mechanical cabin interlocker to protect a crossing of the J&NW and the T&P northeast of Jefferson. The precise location is recorded in the DeGolyer Library files as "4,770 ft. north of T&P passenger station at Jefferson". The interlocker was inspected by RCT on February 1, 1926 and is described as "normal clear for T&P"..."operated entirely by train service or other employee of J&NW".

Above: This 1923 Sanborn Fire Insurance index map shows the T&P entering Jefferson on the southwest side of town and
continuing due north before making a sweeping curve to the east. The LR&N (ex-MKT) line enters on the northwest side
of town, crosses the T&P at Tower 61 and runs parallel for several blocks before turning to the southeast. The J&NW
connects with the LR&N on the east side of town and proceeds northeast toward the mill located on the east bank of Big
Cypress Creek. This connection curved around the bend in Big Cypress Creek Bayou to reach the mill, remaining between
the bayou and the T&P tracks. Below: Magnification of a 1923 Sanborn detail map shows the location of Tower 61 in the west quadrant of the LR&N/T&P crossing, and indicates that it was a two-story structure.

: The Clark & Boice mill in Jefferson was located northeast of town along the east bank of Big Cypress Creek Bayou, approximately a quarter mile from the T&P tracks. This 1901 Sanborn Fire Insurance index map shows the mill and the spur track from the T&P. It also shows a second track from the T&P terminating at the bayou immediately south of the mill. Presumably this was for water access. The tram lines of the J&NW are not shown nor is the connection to the MKT (future LR&N) that appears on the 1923 map. That connection was apparently built sometime after June, 1911 because it does not appear on the Sanborn map of that date. Since none of the Sanborn index maps after 1901 show the mill area, we do not have the precise routing of J&NW tracks in the vicinity of the future Tower 123 other than the T&P spur. We do know that the J&NW ran along New Orleans St. from the LR&N connector and reached the mill, and we know that the railroad ran north out of the Jefferson area, presumably from the mill since the J&NW had no tracks in Jefferson beyond the LR&N connector. Thus, the J&NW/T&P crossing was likely to have been at or near the spur track, and this is consistent with a distance of 4,770 ft. north of the T&P station as documented in the DeGolyer files. The lines below in purple are speculation of how the J&NW tracks were routed in the vicinity of Jefferson and the mill.

: The DeGolyer file for Tower 123 states that the Tower was 4,770 ft. north of the T&P passenger station. The station
was located trackside on the east side of Alley St., and the map below shows a red line measuring that distance along the T&P right-of-way. That places Tower 123 at or very near the projected crossing of the known T&P spur into the mill. As the J&NW had no tracks in Jefferson proper other than its spur track to the Katy, it is likely that its main line to Linden originated at the mill, crossing the T&P at Tower 123. Also of note...the Historic Jefferson Railway operates a narrow gauge tourist train from Jefferson out to the mill site and beyond. The tracks run along the banks of Big Cypress Creek Bayou and are visible amidst the trees by zooming in on this view of Google Earth. Do they follow the original J&NW grade from Jefferson to the mill?

Above: This Google Earth Street View is from the US59 overpass above the Tower 61 crossing looking west down the KCS tracks. Tower 61 was located between the KCS tracks and the equipment cabinet visible at left. Below: Another Street View, this one looking northeast on the UP tracks towards the KCS crossing. An automated interlocker cabin is visible near the crossing beneath US59.

Below: Peg Brown provides this 1956 photo of the crossing, apparently taken during construction of the overpass visible in the above photos.

Last Revised: 1/29/2020 - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.