Electric Interurban Railways

Original Airdate: September 20 (2011)

This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Kim Patterson.

In the early 1900s, Texas enjoyed nearly 500 miles of electric interurban railways. The bulk of the mileage, about 70 percent, was in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. A line to Waco opened in 1913. Interurbans provided frequent passenger service between urban centers, setting them apart from what existing steam railway systems offered.

Interurban lines were highly sought after, as Martha Howe recalls:

"My great-grandfather, W. D. Lacy, started the—was instrumental in starting the interurban railroad that came to Waco. It was going to go in another direction, but he was very instrumental in getting it to come here."

Howe remembers traveling on the interurban with her sister:

"When Florence and I were little girls—and I'm thinking eight and ten or maybe a little bit older—Mother would take us down to the train station here in Waco and put us on the interurban and pay the conductor five dollars and say, ‘You watch these little girls.' We had matching suitcases, and we wore little hats. (laughter) And, 'You watch these girls, and when it—when the train gets to the big Union Station in downtown Dallas, make sure they do not get off. Let them stay on the train till you get to Highland Park station, and their grandparents will be right there waiting for them.' So. And we would go and spend like ten days to two weeks in the summer."

Mary Sendón explains how important the interurban was to the annual Cotton Palace:

"We had lots of visitors to Waco. Fort Worth had a day; Dallas had a day. But we had an interurban, an electric train, that ran from Waco to Dallas and Fort Worth. And you could go for a dollar and a half a round trip (laughs) on the interurban. And a lot of that—all of those people would come in on that interurban. It was stationed—the headquarters were stationed on Fourth and Washington. And that old interurban would come in loaded with people, you know, and then—because they ran on the hour. Every hour there was one leaving, so they could go back home at night. But I remember the Fort Worth and Dallas days were—oh, those were big crowds then. Had huge crowds. Clay Street—I know—you know where Clay Street is. That is such a quiet street now, (laughs) but you just couldn't go down Clay Street during the Cotton Palace; people were coming and going and coming and going."

As highways improved and private car ownership escalated, electric interurban railways faded. By 1942, only two lines remained in Texas, which included the Dallas-Waco branch, but these finally succumbed in 1948, bringing an end to the interurban era.

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