Historic Structures

Texas and Pacific Railroad Depot, Bonham Texas

Date added: July 8, 2022 Categories: Texas Train Station

First settled in 1837, Bonham is one of the two oldest communities in the Red River Valley. Since before the Civil War, the town functioned as a commercial and agricultural business center for the region. During the War, Bonham became the site of a Confederate hospital and large commissary supply center. The northern sub-district of the Confederate Army was also headquartered in Bonham under the command of General Henry McCulloch.

The post-war arrival of the railroad in Bonham brought a period of prosperity and growth which lasted into the early 20th century. On October 12, 1873, the first train arrived in Bonham on tracks built from Sherman eastward, and from Texarkana westward. The Texarkana to Fort Worth branch was completed in 1880, making Bonham a division point on the Texas and Pacific Railroad. In 1887, construction began on the Denison, Bonham, and New Orleans Railroad. The Denison to Bonham section was completed in 1895 and taken over by the MKT Railroad in 1901. Rail service brought increased enrollment to three Bonham higher education institutions in the late 19th century. These were Carlton College for Women, the Masonic Female Institute, and Fannin College for Men (all defunct after the 1920s). The railroad also made new industries feasible in Bonham. By 1901, a year after the new station opened, Bonham had a large cotton mill employing 200 people, a flour mill, and a brick-making operation. All of these relied on the railroad for raw materials and shipment of the finished products.

Between 1890 and 1900, Bonham's population nearly doubled from 3361 to 5042, and Fannin County's population increased from 38,709 to 51,793. By the 1890s, the original depot, which served the Texas & Pacific Railroad's (T&P) transcontinental line parallel to the Red River, was deemed inadequate for a county seat and a town of Bonham's size.

An appeal by leading citizens was made to T&P Railroad officials for construction of a larger facility to accommodate passengers as well as freight. The size, prominent architecture, and setting-the building and grounds occupy an entire city block-testify to the importance of the structure at the time of construction.

The location of this depot was not an issue at the time, since it was situated next to the original structure three blocks south of the courthouse. There was much thought and debate, however, when the original 1873 depot's location was being decided upon. The North Texas Enterprise account of December 7, 1872 reported on a large crowd of people at the courthouse for a three hour meeting to decide on the location of the proposed depot, from among two sites. The site closer to the courthouse square eventually was selected over a more remote site southeast of town. A public debate of this magnitude would likely not have occurred if a depot did not have important stature and consequence for the community.

Also during the pre-World War I era, the railroad constituted the primary mode of passenger transportation. When the depot was built in 1900, the arrival of the first automobile in Bonham was still a few years away, and airline travel was still a few decades in the future. Local businesses from this period made note in their newspaper advertisements that their location was "near the depot."

Accordingly, the architecture of the 1900 depot, with its landmark tower and its solid brick and sandstone exterior, makes a statement about the importance of the building. Except for the courthouse, the commercial buildings around the square, the Bonham Cotton Mill, and a couple of houses, all of Bonham's structures were of wood frame construction in 1900.

The depot in Bonham conforms to many building patterns seen in railroad stations built during the railroad construction frenzy of the late 19th and early 20th century. Typically, a town started with a wood combination passenger and freight station. As prosperity in the town increased, a warehouse-style depot for freight and a separate brick passenger station, often with a clock tower that dominated the town center, replaced the older building. Essential components of these passenger stations included one or two waiting rooms, one or two rooms for baggage, and an agent's office, usually centrally located. Small town or suburban stations were typically one story, although some included second-floor living quarters for the agent. The wide overhanging roof at the first floor level supported by impressive brackets and suitable for sheltering arriving and departing passengers constituted the most distinguishing feature. The features of the Texas & Pacific Depot in Bonham represents many of these trends, although it continued to facilitate both freight and passenger service throughout its history, with the eastern half reserved for freight and the western half reserved for passenger service.

The Bonham depot is an exact duplicate of a Texas & Pacific depot in Weatherford in nearby Parker County, just west of Fort Worth. This copying of the building's plan, style, and materials attest not only to their durability and functionality, but also to the building's excellent representation of common building patterns in turn of the century depots.

On the night of February 17, 1918, a fire of unknown origin was discovered in the freight warehouse at the east end of the building. It soon spread westward to the agent's office and the passenger area, destroying the east half and heavily damaging the west portion of the depot. Three firemen were injured when the roof of the freight warehouse collapsed.

After some delay in an unsuccessful attempt to force the MKT Railroad into a union depot for Bonham, T&P construction crews began reconstructing the building in October 1918. Some of the delay was also attributed to the difficulty in obtaining building materials due to the war in Europe.

The restored structure reopened on March 7, 1919. It featured some improvements over the earlier facility, with full up-to-date plumbing, more restrooms, ceiling fans, lights, and more waiting room seats. For the next 31 years the depot served as the center for passenger rail service and freight transportation in Bonham and the rest of Fannin County.

In 1950, the last passenger train left the Bonham depot, and approximately eight years later freight service ended. The warehouse on the east end of the depot was subsequently leased out for grain storage and similar uses. In 1986, the Missouri Pacific Railroad, which had merged with the T&P in 1976, donated the depot to the Fannin County Historical Museum Society. The Fannin County Museum of History opened in the restored west end of the building in 1987. The Bonham Area Chamber of Commerce restored and moved into the east end in 1989. A small portion of the building is leased to the Red River Art Association, which maintains an office, an art gallery, and sponsors art classes for the community. So, even in its non-railroad use, the Bonham depot continues to play a major role in the life and activities of the city. On a local level, it is the best example of a railroad depot built at the turn of the century to facilitate both passenger and freight service in Bonham.