Texas Railroad History - Tower 69 - Celeste

A Crossing of the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway and the Missouri - Kansas - Texas Railway

Left: This photo of Tower 69 appears to have been taken early in its existence, but the photographer and date are unknown. The tower sat at a crossing of the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe (GC&SF, "Santa Fe") Railway and the Missouri - Kansas - Texas (MKT, "Katy") Railway in Celeste, a small community twelve miles northwest of Greenville. The tracks crossed in an X-pattern with the tower in the obtuse angle east of the diamond. The long side of the tower was parallel to the Santa Fe tracks which ran on a 44-degree northeast heading while the Katy crossed on a 157-degree southeast heading. The stairs were on the short side of the tower facing the Katy (which are the tracks visible in the foreground.) The men are standing within the 67-degree angle north of the diamond (barely visible at far right) and they are obscuring a handcar on the Santa Fe tracks between them and the tower. Later, a passenger station used by both railroads was built west of the diamond, where the camera sits for this photo facing east-northeast.

The tower design does not yield obvious clues as to who built it, but it does not resemble typical Santa Fe towers. References in the Celeste Courier newspaper to "Katy Tower" suggest that it was staffed by Katy personnel and likely built by the Katy as well. The vertical arrangement of the planks that comprise the exterior walls is rare. So far, only Tower 58 (also a Katy/Santa Fe tower) has been found to use a similar design. Most rectangular towers were made either from wood boards horizontally attached or concrete construction, at least the first floor (and often by the Katy.) Tower 69 was built in 1907.

Right
: This photo was taken inside Tower 69. The back of the photo reads "Chief White, Celeste RR Tower". On December 18, 1953, the Celeste Courier reported "George Gaskins succeeds Chief White at the Katy Tower as second trick operator."

[photos provided by Celeste native Jerry Hunter, credited at his request to The Mackie Don Baber Collection.]

There are two reasons the Missouri - Kansas - Texas (MKT, "Katy") Railroad did not build through Celeste when tracks were laid from Denison to Greenville in 1880. First, Celeste did not exist at the time, nor was there any settlement at all where it eventually sprang up, only open prairie. Second, it was not the Katy doing the construction; it was a company with a similar name, the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Extension Railway, which originally (1877) had been chartered as the Denison and Southeastern Railway. In a blatant attempt to lure the Katy into buying the railroad, its name was changed in the midst of construction after building into Whitewright in March, 1880. Track laying continued under the new name from Whitewright to Greenville, which was reached in November, 1880, shortly after passing through the future site of Celeste. The Katy bought the railroad a year later.

The Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe (GC&SF, "Santa Fe") Railway began building northeast out of Dallas in 1886 with the eventual goal being Paris near the Red River. In Farmersville, Santa Fe crossed the narrow gauge East Line & Red River (EL&RR) Railroad which had built from Greenville due west to McKinney in 1882, shortly after being acquired by the Katy. Thirteen miles northeast of Farmersville, Santa Fe would need to cross the Katy's Denison - Greenville line. Santa Fe's precise route had not been determined and the only settlement along the Katy tracks in the vicinity of their preferred route was Kingston, a town founded in 1880 when the Katy had built through the area. Since railroad junctions typically stimulated significant commerce, Santa Fe requested a bonus from Kingston. The rationale was simple; if Santa Fe built through an established town such as Kingston, the railroad's opportunity for revenue from lot sales was nil. If they acquired undeveloped land elsewhere for the Katy crossing, they could profit from founding a town and selling lots. When the citizens of Kingston refused to pay the bonus, Santa Fe bought land and built tracks across the Katy three miles northwest of Kingston. There they established the town of Celeste, named for the wife of a Santa Fe official. In less than ten years, Celeste and Kingston were the same size and many Kingston businesses had relocated to Celeste. By 1914, Celeste was about three times the size of Kingston. Celeste's population peaked at around a thousand residents in the mid 1920s, but dwindled quickly during the Depression. Most of the town of Celeste was located immediately west of the Santa Fe / Katy crossing, but there was scattered housing on all sides. In 1924, future war hero and Hollywood actor Audie Murphy was born near Kingston. He attended grade school in Celeste and was living in Farmersville when he enlisted in the Army.

The April, 1948 issue of the Katy employees' magazine had a story about the founding of Celeste due to Kingston's refusal to pay Santa Fe a bonus. The article quoted a person, still living in the area, who had been involved with making the decision 62 years earlier:

"There was some excitement about the matter at the time," recalled Ira Murton England, eighty-six year old Tennessee pioneer, who settled on a farm near Celeste in 1873. "Farmers around Kingston held a mass meeting to talk over the problem. I was present at the meeting myself. Tom Culver, who owned much of the land east of the Katy tracks around Kingston, led the farmers in their action to refuse the railroad. Culver was a success in his business. What he said was good enough for the other farmers." 

By 1896, Kingston's fate had been decided.

"They began selling real estate and other property in Kingston for less than they paid for it," England said. "Most of the town's eight-hundred persons just disappeared. Most of them came to Celeste, and a few went to other places unaware that they were killing Kingston."

The GC&SF line from Dallas to Paris was built as part of an agreement wherein the much larger Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (AT&SF) Railway would acquire the GC&SF as a wholly owned subsidiary when certain construction activities were complete. The acquisition occurred in 1887 and the GC&SF continued operating as a Texas-based railroad owned by the AT&SF. The line to Paris was expected to be valuable because the St. Louis San Francisco ("Frisco") Railway had a main line into Hugo, Indian Territory (Oklahoma) from Monett, Missouri via Fort Smith, Arkansas and was planning to bridge the Red River between Hugo and Paris. Paris was also on an east/west line of the Texas & Pacific (T&P) Railway. The Red River bridge opened in 1888 and the Frisco-chartered Paris & Great Northern Railroad built the 17 miles between Paris and the bridge that same year.

Left: This map shows rail lines in the vicinity of Celeste with interlocking towers identified by number. Roughly half of these lines have been abandoned, and because they changed ownership over time, this map does not represent any particular date. In addition to railroads already mentioned, the St. Louis Southwestern ("Cotton Belt") Railway had tracks in this area as did the Texas Midland (TM). Both the Cotton Belt and the TM became owned by Southern Pacific (SP). The East Line & Red River (EL&RR) did not exist by that name for very long, having been acquired by the Katy shortly after it reached Greenville. Its track east of Farmersville remains intact today, now owned by Kansas City Southern. The unlabeled Santa Fe / T&P connection between Bonham and Paris was at Honey Grove. Santa Fe's branch to Honey Grove split off at Ladonia.

While traffic through Paris was steady, it was nonetheless a "dead end" for the Santa Fe and thus dependent to some extent on Frisco traffic over the bridge. In contrast, the Katy route north through Denison led directly to Katy's extensive route structure in Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. Frisco and Santa Fe did collaborate on passenger service, operating the Texas Limited between Dallas and St. Louis via Paris which passed through Celeste. Beginning in 1915, Frisco and the Katy began jointly operating the Texas Special, a flagship passenger service for both railroads between San Antonio and St. Louis via the Red River bridge at Denison. The Texas Special to Dallas passed through Celeste (there was also Texas Special service to Ft. Worth that split off at Denison.) The Katy also had passenger trains through Celeste that did not involve the Frisco.


Above: This ad for Frisco passenger service for the St. Louis - Texas market appeared in the Official Railway Guide in 1923. The
Texas Limited and the Texokla Limited passed through Celeste on Santa Fe's tracks. The Dallas section of the Texas Special passed through Celeste on the Katy tracks.

There was easily enough traffic over the diamond to justify a manned interlocking tower at Celeste, and there turned out to be sufficient traffic to sustain that need for nearly 50 years. On March 30, 1907, the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) authorized Tower 69 to begin operations at Celeste to manage the Katy / Santa Fe crossing. The tower housed a mechanical interlocking plant with 32 functions, a relatively high number, likely due to signals and switches controlled from the tower for station tracks, exchange tracks and sidings. The contract between the two railroads for the operation and maintenance of Tower 69 was dated July 22, 1907. For an "indefinite" duration, the railroads agreed to split all tower-related expenses evenly.

Left: Celeste Santa Fe depot, c.1913, Ken Stavinoha Collection
Below
: In the 1920s, a Union Passenger Station was built west of the diamond. The south wing faced the Santa Fe tracks and housed the passenger waiting room. The north wing faced the Katy tracks and housed the baggage area and the Railway Express office. In this aerial image, Tower 69 is obscured by the copyright text, but its shadow is visible northeast of the crossing. (1956 image (c)historicaerials.com)
Left: This 1915 track chart of Celeste (courtesy Ed Chambers) shows the track arrangement prior to the construction of the Union Passenger Station. The chart does not show Tower 69 although it had been operational for eight years by the time the drawing was made. As the chart depicts, each railroad had its own depot a few hundred yards north (Katy) or south (Santa Fe) of the crossing. The construction of the joint station in the 1920s gave the town the type of facility that larger towns enjoyed. There was limited need to change trains conveniently (a major benefit of joint stations) in Celeste, but it did occur, as noted below.

Below
: Perhaps when the joint passenger station was being planned, the oldtimers in Celeste recalled this story in
Railway Age from December, 1896.

Left:  This Katy advertisement appeared in the Celeste Courier, April 29, 1955. In November of that year, Santa Fe initiated legal steps to terminate its daily passenger service between Dallas and Paris which stopped at Celeste.

Below and Right
: The
Celeste Courier of January 20, 1961 lamented the recent razing of the railroad station and described the trains that still passed through Celeste.


With such limited traffic, it is no surprise that at the time this article was written in January, 1961, Tower 69 had been razed more than four years earlier.

Above: Like Kingston and Farmersville, Celeste claimed to be the home of Audie Murphy. His visit to Celeste was noted in the Courier on October 19, 1951.

Below: This ad for an Audie Murphy movie at the theater in Leonard appeared in the
Courier, June 15, 1956.

Left: This front page story in the Celeste Courier of March 23, 1956 announced the future demise of Tower 69

Below
: The
Courier of September 19, 1952 noted an incident that injured telegraph operator Glasscoe (whose name appears in all three articles.)

Right: Before removing the tower, an automatic interlocker needed to be installed as a replacement.  The installation was announced in the August 31, 1956 issue of the
Courier.

The Santa Fe line between Paris and Farmersville was sold in 1990 to Chaparral Railroad, an affiliate of the Kiamichi Railroad which operated the former Frisco lines through Hugo, Oklahoma and the line from the bridge to Paris. When Chaparral abandoned the line in 1995, a coalition of organizations came together to acquire the right-of-way (plus additional right-of-way on the abandoned T&P rail line between Paris and New Boston) under the rail-banking process of the National Trails Act. These rights-of-way have since been developed into the Northeast Texas Trail. The ex-Katy line through Celeste remains in use, now owned by Genesee & Wyoming and operated by its Dallas, Garland and Northeastern (DG&NO) Railroad subsidiary. At Bells, the track merges with the former T&P line and proceeds into Sherman. East of Bells, the former T&P tracks remain intact to Bonham but are mostly used for car storage. The Katy tracks between Bells and Denison were removed in 1988.

 
Above Left: Looking northwest in 2005 on the former Katy line, a walk-in equipment cabin sits trackside near the former Tower 69 crossing. It is very likely the same cabin that housed the automatic interlocker that replaced Tower 69. It no longer served that purpose; by 2005, the Santa Fe tracks had been gone for a decade. Yet, the relatively new door and the power line connection suggest that the cabin may have still housed equipment, perhaps for nearby signals or grade crossing controls. (Myron Malone photo) Above Right: The remnant of the foundation of Tower 69 is located across the Santa Fe right-of-way from the automatic interlocker cabin. (Myron Malone photo 2005)


Above Left: The former Katy line, now operated by DG&NO, is visible running top to bottom on a slight diagonal in this bird's eye view of the Tower 69 crossing c.2008. The abandoned Santa Fe line is visible as a paved trail crossing diagonally left to right. The automatic interlocker cabin still sits among the trees on the north side of the former diamond. A DG&NO equipment cabin sits in the middle of the triangle formed by the Katy and Santa Fe rights-of-way and US Highway 69. Above Right: looking south from US 69 along the Santa Fe right-of-way, now the Northeast Texas Trail (Google Street View, March, 2018) Below Left: This view shows the new equipment cabin with red and white indicators on top. In the distance, a rail crew is working on the track. Note that the power line to the automatic interlocker cabin seen in the 2005 photo has been removed. (Google Street View, March, 2018) Below Right: This is the north view along the former Santa Fe right-of-way, now the Northeast Texas Trail. (Google Street View, March, 2018)

 
Last Revised: 5/14/2021 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.