Texas Railroad History - Tower 173 - Palestine

Crossing of the International - Great Northern (I-GN) Railroad and the Texas State Railroad (TSR)

The town of Palestine was established in 1846 at the center of the newly formed Anderson County, eventually becoming the county seat. The International Railroad built through Palestine in 1872 as they worked to complete a line between Hearne and Longview. In 1873, the Houston & Great Northern Railroad reached Palestine from the south with their main line out of Houston. The two railroads promptly merged to form the International & Great Northern (I-GN) Railroad, headquartered in Palestine. That same year, the Hearne - Longview route was completed, giving Palestine excellent rail connections to the northeast, southwest and south.

In 1896, the state of Texas built a five mile railroad near Rusk to haul iron ore to a prison foundry that had been constructed a decade earlier. It was never chartered but became known as the Texas State Railroad (TSR). As the foundry gradually expanded, so did the TSR, building west to Maydelle in 1903 and extending farther west to Palestine a few years later. The extension to Palestine was the idea of Thomas M. Campbell, a native of Rusk and a resident of Palestine where he had been the Bankruptcy Receiver and the General Manager of the I-GN during its reorganization in the 1890s. With respect to the TSR, the more important element of Campbell's biography is that he was elected Governor of Texas in 1906! TSR's only connection was in Rusk with the St. Louis Southwestern Railway; Campbell's idea was that making a connection with the I-GN in Palestine would bring competition, lowering freight rates for the foundry. The connection was completed in 1909, but it was not interlocked until April 15, 1931 when Tower 173 was authorized for operation by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) as an 8-function automatic interlocker according to RCT's 1931 Annual Report. As this was after RCT's decision to stop requiring derails for interlockers, the eight functions would have consisted of a home signal and a distant signal in each of the four directions of the crossing diamond.  From 1921 to 1962, the TSR was leased to the Texas & New Orleans (T&NO) Railroad, a subsidiary of Southern Pacific (SP).

In 1925, the I-GN became part of the Missouri Pacific (MP) Lines, which was acquired decades later by Union Pacific (UP) in 1982. The TSR has evolved to become as a tourist line. The I-GN tracks have become the property of UP and remain in active service.

This annotated Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Palestine from 1935 shows the I-GN (green) and TSR (red) crossing southeast of downtown. The I-GN rail yard occupied the central junction near downtown with tracks radiating out of Palestine to Longview (northeast), Houston (south) and Hearne (southwest). Below: This 1935 Sanborn Map image shows that there were connecting tracks at the Tower 173 crossing. The TSR is labeled as "T&NO RR" on the map because it was under long-term lease to SP at the time the map was drawn.

Annotated Google Earth Satellite Image, Tower 173 Location

Above: The red dashes show where the TSR crossed the I-GN main line. The Tower 173 crossing diamond has been eliminated. Instead, the track from Rusk now curves onto the main line heading north toward UP's yard in downtown Palestine. The west leg of the TSR is now a short industrial lead, but abandoned beyond that. The UP connector (which does not appear on the 1935 Sanborn Map) proceeds west and connects northbound to the line from Hearne into downtown. This allows northbound trains from Houston the alternative to enter the yard from the west instead of the south, and it allows trains leaving Palestine on the Hearne track to move east and proceed to Houston.

Google Maps / Street View Images

Above: A broader Google Earth satellite view of the TSR route highlights the abandoned track crossings of Cook St. (green) and Burkitt St. (blue). Though long abandoned, rails remained visible at these locations as of 2013. Below Left: TSR rails remain buried in the pavement at Cook St. in this Street View to the west. Below Right: TSR rails continue to run across and north of Burkitt St.

Above: UP maintenance was underway when this October, 2006 photo was taken facing southeast at the site of Tower 173. The rail line in the foreground is the TSR going east (left) to Rusk. The I-GN line to Houston is in the background on a southeast heading. (Jim King photo) Below: This Google Street View looks south on Royal St. at the Tower 173 crossing site. A southbound vehicle on Royal St. will cross four different tracks in this order: (1) the TSR connector from Rusk (left) to the former I-GN main into downtown; (2) the I-GN main line from Houston (left); (3) an industrial spur coming off the northbound main occupying the former TSR right-of-way to the west (right); and (4) the "UP connector" to the west. The Tower 173 interlocker would have been near the Royal St. grade crossing of the I-GN main line.

: This postcard image of Spring Street in Palestine shows a railroad tower in the foreground at left, adjacent to the I-GN tracks. This was a yard tower, photographed below by John W. Barriger III in the late 1930s or early 1940s. In the postcard view, Barriger is standing trackside at the near end of the yellowish building near the center of the image and is facing the tower.


Above: Railroad executive John W Barriger III took this photo, most likely in the 1940s, on a visit to Palestine. Barriger is beside the Railway Express Agency building and is looking east. The men are standing adjacent to the Magnolia St. grade crossing. The tower visible past Magnolia St. to the left of the tracks controlled the east end of the MP yard. There's no indication that it was ever submitted to the Railroad Commission of Texas for approval, which would have resulted in a tower number assignment. Numbering yard interlockers did not become standard practice until the mid-1920s, so it may have been built before then. Below: The 1935 Sanborn Map shows the tower as a 2-story structure (highlighted red) located trackside east of the Magnolia St. grade crossing. The tower does not appear on the next earlier Sanborn Map of 1919.

Last Revised: 1/292022 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.