The Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway Company was incorporated on May 28, 1873 by a group of Galveston merchants and businessmen seeking a direct connection from their city to interior parts of Texas. At that time, Galveston had rail connections to the interior only via Houston, which was a competing trade point. Galveston suffered periodic traffic embargoes on this line as a result of yellow fever epidemics, for which the only known treatment was a quarantine of infected populations. The people of Galveston considered that Houston civic leaders suffered from an excessive propensity to embargo trade from Galveston without true evidence of an epidemic, and sought direct rail connection with the north to gain independence from control by a commercial rival.
Construction of the line, financed in part (and controversially so, the matter having been litigated) by the issuance of Galveston municipal bonds, commenced May 1, 1875. The project proceeded in fits and starts and by the beginning of 1877 stalled entirely at Arcola, 45 miles north, for lack of funds to bridge the Brazos river. By the end of that year the Galveston newspaper editorialized regarding the construction effort, writing that it represented "a history of precious hope and fair expectancy starved and frozen on the bosom to which it was consigned for warmth and nurture.there the corpse lies". In 1878, various cities and counties north of the Brazos River pledged more than $300,000 in funding, and this money enabled purchase of the iron necessary to bridge the river and its floodplain with a three span structure. Unfortunately, within months the new bridge was entirely destroyed by a flood, and the company became insolvent. In December 1878 George Sealy of Galveston assembled a syndicated loan from himself and friends in the amount of $250,000, taking a mortgage on the company's assets as collateral. The loan had a 90 day term, and was not timely repaid. The Sealy consortium foreclosed, and purchased the entire company on the steps of the Galveston Courthouse for $200,000 on April 15, 1879. Almost all of Sealy's friends and acquaintances backing the loan would later have a station on the railroad line named after them, and to this turn of events the Texas communities of Kopperl, Sealy, Rosenberg, Kempner, Moody, Wallis, Heidenheimer, Somerville, Dyer, Rogers and Blum are indebted for their namesakes. The funds invested in this 90 day loan would result in spectacular financial returns for the lenders, who each received company stock after the foreclosure. One of the early G.C.&S.F. stock certificates has never been found, and if located today would be worth a considerable sum.
Freed of debt by the foreclosure, the company was able to resume construction northward. The Galveston newspaper urged this effort forward with a prediction in the spring of 1879 that "Galveston is doomed if this opportunity is let slip", observing that competing railroads had construction plans afoot which would siphon central Texas cotton traffic off to New Orleans. Another news article commented that the Galveston, Houston and Harrisburg (the line between Galveston and Houston, and thus the chief source of irritation to Galveston for its monopoly control of the rail traffic) with its high freight charges was "the biggest bleeding machine in the whole country." In the 1870s there was no state or federal regulatory control of rail freight tariffs, so the carriers were free to charge whatever the market would bear. This would change, but not until the 1890s, and meanwhile stout financial empires would be built by prudent railroad financiers. The new owners of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe wasted no time in staking their claim to empire, and their rails quickly stretched north over fairly gentle terrain. By the end of 1879 the line was open to Rosenberg, and by December of 1880 it had reached Cameron. Within the next year, building north through Temple and Cleburne, the line arrived in Fort Worth. Here northward construction stopped for the time being. The cotton trade across the central one third of the state was thus profitably captured for the Galveston export trade, and no longer would Texas growers in that territory seek market outlets at New Orleans or Houston without consideration of Galveston.
The company turned its attention westward, attracted by the opening of west Texas lands formerly held in large ranches to small farmers and stockmen as the free range era came to an end. Service opened from Belton to Lampasas in May 1882. Lampasas was soon touted by the company as the "Saratoga of the South" for its mineral spring baths, and two fashionable hotels were built to accommodate rail tourists. While Lampasas remained the western terminus of the line, for a period of about three years, it was the trailhead for livestock drives from nearby points west. Company advertisements from the era touted it as "the cattle route of Texas". As would then have been the case with a rail terminus on the edge of any fertile territory being newly broken up into smaller acreage for settlement in that era, the city became a promising boom town. But the ambitions of the Santa Fe directorate were greater, and in 1885 the line was extended westward, reaching Brownwood by the end of the year. Construction continued, and service was opened to Coleman and Ballinger in 1886. During these years the company was also building a branch line east from Somerville to Montgomery, with an eye toward capturing timber traffic from the east Texas piney woods territory. By that year the GC&SF operated about 700 miles of line, and had attracted the attention of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. The AT&SF was controlled by a syndicate of Boston capitalists of "puritan stock" with names such as Nathaniel Silsbee (soon leading to a few more Texas town namesakes), and operated a line from Chicago reaching southwest to California. The AT&SF hungrily eyed the GC&SF as offering a connection to the Texas Gulf Coast, and allowing it to drive a wedge into Jay Gould's railroad monopoly in that territory. In February 1886 offered to purchase the company by exchanging three AT&SF shares for four GC&SF shares on condition that the GC&SF deliver 1000 miles of main line trackage within one year. Though not without misgiving by some owners, and concern in the press about loss of local control, the trade was agreed to by instrument dated March 3, 1886. George Sealy drove a hard bargain with the puritans, and the stock swap agreed to was one-for-one rather than four-for-three. Some of the Galveston signers (referred to by observers as "the Colonels") later attempted to dishonor the agreement in a controversial episode which caused hard feelings remembered for a long time. Looking back from the vantage point of very old age, George Sealy would comment in a 1933 letter that "several of the signers of the instrument repudiated it, although ultimately it proved to be the foundation of their fortunes." There were strong enmities between the Sealy family and another prominent Galveston family, the Moodys, who owned a large block of company stock and held a seat on the board. Internal company files indicate that GC&SF management was quite well aware of the feud, which would simmer for decades, and after frank deliberation chose to side with the Sealys.
In compliance with the terms of the stock sale agreement, the G.C.&S.F. commenced construction of three hundred miles of new track, building northeast from Dallas to Paris and Honey Grove, northwest from Cleburne to Weatherford, and due north from Fort Worth to Purcell, Indian Territory. In 1887 the AT&SF closed on its purchase of the 1000 mile GC&SF system. A Texas statute required that all foreign railroad companies maintain a separate Texas subsidiary with general office located within the state, and so the Texas face of the company would continue to be known as the GC&SF for many years to come. The early 1890s were not kind to the combined company. A national financial panic in 1893 depressed the capital markets, and overwhelmed even the Puritans. The AT&SF declared bankruptcy in 1896 and was reorganized, changing its name from the A.T.&S.F. Railroad Company to the A. T. & S. F. Railway Company. Yet Texas prospered with a significant growth both in population and in agricultural production. During the first ten years of the 20 th Century, the Santa Fe moved expanded aggressively to protect its Texas territory and develop new markets. The East Texas branch was extended east to Silsbee, from there south to Beaumont and Port Bolivar, and north to Longview. The story of this line is told in a chapter of the forthcoming book, a draft of which was presented to the September 2001 meeting of the East Texas Historical Association. The full text is available at this website. During the latter part of this decade the GC&SF commenced construction of new branch lines from Lometa west to Eden, from San Angelo west to Sterling City, and from Coleman north to Lubbock, connecting with the AT&SF California line near Clovis, New Mexico. G.C.&S.F. company track mileage reached its peak of 2118 main line miles (about 1/6 of the A.T.&S.F. system) on March 1, 1937, when it purchased the Fort Worth and Rio Grande Railway Company line from Fort Worth to Menard in a foreclosure proceeding. But b this time, the number of company employees and the points at which open agencies were maintained were both declining significantly. If measured in number of communities in which depot agencies were staffed, the GC&SF level of impact in the state peaked in 1912, when 176 station agents were on the payroll. On June 30, 1912, it reported to the Railroad Commission of Texas the existence of 8089 employees, and the operation of 1596 main track miles. In that year, GC&SF locomotives racked up 109,671,794 passenger miles (passengers carried one mile - a commonly used statistical measure) and an upward trending quantity of freight, as documented elsewhere at this website. The top five freight categories for that year were lumber (915,086 tons), grain (355,461 tons), cotton (229,990 tons), merchandise (227,226 tons) and livestock (150,297 tons). This traffic would prove far more profitable than the passenger carriage, which by 1920 had commenced an inexorable decline. The company's legal department records, of which 400+ boxes survive, are replete with applications to the Railroad Commission to reduce passenger service and close depot agencies commencing in the 1920s. By the time of its 1965 dissolution, the G.C.& S.F. was operating only two named passenger trains. These were a premier streamliner called the Texas Chief, which operated on a fast schedule between Galveston and Chicago, and the California Special between Houston and Albuquerque.
Although the A.T.&S.F. purchased the G.C.& S. F. in its entirety in 1886, the G.C.&S.F. would in compliance with state law maintain its corporate headquarters and general offices in Galveston until 1965, when Texas statutory changes would permit its dissolution and merger with the greater AT&SF system. The closure of the Galveston general office building, which was located at the head of the Strand, and the relocation of company management to Topeka and Amarillo, were so painful to the company's Galveston employees that these actions could not be recalled without emotion even 30 years later during interviews of retirees in that city. In a 1965 letter to affected Galveston employees, A.T.&S.F. President E. S. Marsh attributed to dissolution of the G.C.&S.F. to technological advances enabling the centralized administration of operations and the need to make economies in corporate expenses. This refrain would later become familiar throughout corporate America. Galveston was jubilant in celebration of the company's 75 th anniversary in 1948, but there was no 100 th anniversary to be celebrated in 1973.
At the time of the 1965 merger, there remained open a number of agencies which had been active since the G.C.&S.F. first opened service. Among these a very few survived into the 1980s before closure, a few in relatively isolated locales. These included the agencies at Bellville, Brenham, Caldwell, Cleburne, Clifton, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Killeen, Lampasas, Lometa, McGregor, Midlothian, Milano, Rosenberg, Temple, San Angelo, Sealy and Somerville. In the smaller towns, these agencies, when opened and for perhaps 20 years thereafter, represented the first and only national corporate employer in the communities served. The author's collection of records includes the company's original September 1886 payroll ledger of the G.C.&S.F., which contains the names, salaries and positions of every employee at all of its stations in Texas and the Indian Territory, as construction marched north to meet the A.T.&S.F. in compliance with George Sealy's trade with the Puritans. One of the objectives of this website is to list those names for all of the stations existing at the time of the company's 1886 merger with the A.T.&S.F. in hopes that descendants using the internet to research the history of their predecessors will find the reference and perhaps supply a photograph of the employee for inclusion on the site. This sort of historical investigation would not be practical without the web, which itself enabled acquisition of the 1886 payroll ledger (purchased on e-bay for a not inconsiderable sum, but priceless to the author).
From the perspective of the 21 st century it is difficult to perceive the importance of the G.C.&S.F. to those communities which it first served more than a century ago. The social impact of the company's presence in colonizing and serving isolated communities on the western edge of its territory was profound. Until World War I, almost all freight and passenger traffic in Texas traveled by rail. When the G.C.&S.F. rails reached San Saba, Texas in 1911, the editor of the local newspaper editorialized on the wonder of the event, and prophesied that grass would grow in the wagon road to Lometa. But the gradual migration away from rail transportation to automobiles and trucks, which had already commenced by then, would severely impact the company and render this prediction incorrect. When reviewing the G.C.&S.F. company magazine coverage of corporate activities between the dawn of the 20 th century and World War II, one is struck by a sense that company officials just could not believe that the nation's rail empire would be so supplanted (at least in importance of public policy attention and investment) by the public highway system and the airline industry. By the late 1940s, however, there was little remaining doubt on this point, and the rail industry began a painful downsizing. This website will grow to contain a considerable amount of photographic documentation, and the viewer is compelled to note that by the 1950s, imagery of brick platforms outside of the company depots shows grass growing in the cracks where people once thronged. The road to Lometa was by this time well paved.