Long before anyone in Lubbock could sing about workin’ on the railroad, citizens knew it would take a catchy tune just to land a ticket to ride and ensure the town’s future.
“The railroads were a key to economic success for Lubbock,” said Paul Carlson, a history professor at Texas Tech and a longtime Lubbock historian. “The railroads also made Lubbock the Hub of the Plains. In fact, they made Lubbock the hub more than anything else.”
With a population of between 1,000 and 1,200 in the early 1900s, Lubbock was a long way from becoming a hub. In its earliest days, it just wanted a connection. Carlson said having a railroad was paramount to a town’s ability to grow and flourish.
“The railroads were key to development,” he said. “In the period from about 1870 to 1920 or so, a period of about 50 years, towns in the West, if they didn’t have a railroad, they couldn’t grow or do well. For that 50-year period, railroads were a key.”
That pattern was no different for Lubbock. The Morning Avalanche newspaper, in its Jan. 29, 1909, edition — roughly six weeks before the city was incorporated — trumpeted the fact that a deal had been signed with the Santa Fe Railway.
“Lubbock will secure this important branch line within the year 1909. Bonus of $50,000 and right of way guaranteed by people,” was one of the headlines on that edition’s front page. The deal called for construction work to begin by May 1, 1909.
Civic leaders knew railroad service would put Lubbock on even footing with other West Texas communities already enjoying railroad service — and growing.
“Before Lubbock got the railroad, Plainview had one and Amarillo had one,” Carlson said. “Those towns were certainly growing, and they were calling themselves the Queen City of the Plains. Lubbock was trying to compete, and local leaders knew they had to have a railroad for that to happen.”
Carlson said Lubbock’s ability to secure a railroad was one of the most important events in the city’s history.
“The population before 1909 was just more than 1,000 people,” he said. “By 1920, after the railroads began coming in, the population grew to 4,100. In that decade it grew enormously. Lubbock boomed, managing to basically quadruple its population in a 10-year period.”
According to Lawrence Graves’ book, “A History of Lubbock,” the Santa Fe line was completed under the charter of a subsidiary, the Pecos and Northern Texas. The first railroad line was built south from Plainview to Lubbock, and a raucous celebration greeted the first train when it steamed into town on Sept. 25, 1909.
Carlson said Monroe G. Abernathy, a Lubbock Realtor, deserves a lot of credit as one of the city’s early leaders who helped make the deal with the Santa Fe rail happen.
“He served as Lubbock’s liaison with the Santa Fe,” he said. “Abernathy and New Deal, which was originally Monroe, were towns he promoted on the Santa Fe coming in to Lubbock from the north.”
The Lubbock Commercial Club, the predecessor of the chamber of commerce, also was involved, Carlson said. The organization, made up of businessmen and economic leaders, handled promoting the railroad to the citizenry and helping raise the $50,000 required by the railroad. Among those at the forefront of the effort were organization members Colby Thomas, C.F. Parker and Don Biggers.
“These were key business leaders who pushed for the railroad,” Carlson said. “The Santa Fe told Lubbock it had to raise $50,000 if they wanted the Santa Fe. At first, people were slow to raise the money, but within two months, it was raised.”
The money, Carlson said, was to cover expenses that included siding, right-of-way issues and a depot site.
“It was a lot of money,” he said. “But it was pretty standard that towns and counties would put that kind of money up if they wanted the railroads.”
After the Hub City’s first “spoke” became reality, other lines found their way to Lubbock. According to Graves’ book, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe decided to link its two separate Texas lines and began construction from Coleman through Sweetwater, Snyder and Lubbock to Clovis, N.M. The line was in operation to Lubbock by 1911.
In 1910, the Crosbyton-South Plains Railway opened for service between Lubbock and Crosbyton. The Santa Fe also extended its line from Slaton to Lamesa in 1910, and Slaton was designed a division point. In 1925, the Santa Fe completed another extension to Levelland and then Bledsoe to connect with what had become a large cattle-shipping area, according to Graves’ book.
The railroad construction era came to an end in 1928, Graves wrote, with the opening of the Forth Worth and Denver South Plains Railway, a subsidiary of Burlington Northern, from Estelline southwestward to Lubbock. By then, Lubbock’s future as the “Hub City” was secure. It had been selected as the site of a new college, and the county’s population in 1930 had ballooned to almost 40,000, according to Graves.
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