Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Denison, Texas: The Little Railroad Town That Could

New CK header

My dad was born on a farm just outside Denison, Texas in 1916. Third to the youngest of thirteen children, he left home at the age of 17, “hitting the road” during the Great Depression. He traveled all over the western U.S., eventually settling in San Francisco, where he met my mother, a Minnesota farm girl who had come west during WWII in search of work and a bit of adventure.
 W D Horner & George sm
My dad with legs dangling, his siblings and father, ca. 1925

Daddy never lived in Denison again, but he was always proud of coming from the town where President Dwight Eisenhower was born in 1890. The President’s home has been restored and is now the centerpiece of the Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site, which includes a museum.
Dwight Eisenhower Birthplace, Denison, Texas
Denison was founded in 1872 to serve as a depot for the Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad (MKT) or "Katy" as it’s affectionately known. The town was named after MKT vice president George Denison. The first train arrived on Christmas Eve, 1872.
KATY Railroad
1881 Ad for the MKT
Denison was incorporated the following summer. Main Street boasted a neat row of businesses, but beyond that sprawled a tent city of bars, gambling halls, and brothels. However, because the town was laid out where the MKT crossed the Red River (both important transportation routes), it soon grew into a thriving center of commerce in the Old West. In 1875 John Henry "Doc" Holliday kept offices in Denison. By the end of the 1870s the town had two cotton compresses, a large flour mill, and a slaughterhouse. In the 1880s an opera house was built, and the Denison Herald began publication.
 Map of Denison
1891 Aerial Map of Denison by Artist Thaddeus Fowler
In The Sunday Gazetteer on January 11: “It is believed to include every residence within the city limits, covering a territory of over three miles square”  -- Amon Carter Museum website
During the mid-19th century, an epidemic of phylloxera, small insects that feed on the roots and leaves of grapevines, destroyed most European vines. Denison horticulturalist T.V. Munson pioneered ways to grow phylloxera resistant vines, for which he was inducted into the French Legion of Honor. Denison was named sister city to Cognac, France.
On February 6, 1873, Denison established the first free public school in Texas. In 1886 a post office opened, and in 1889 the town had 5,000 residents. In addition to the MKT, several additional rail lines connected to Denison. In 1901 the first electric "Interurban" railway in Texas was completed between Denison and Sherman, Texas. Sherman is situated seven miles south of Denison in northeastern Grayson County.
 Denison U.P. Depot

New Union Depot, Denison Texas (postcard, circa 1909)

Denison U.P. Depot
Rusk Avenue facing north, Denison, Texas (postcard, circa 1911)

By the mid-1920s Denison had just over 17,000 residents and 400 businesses, including four banks. It also hosted two high schools, nine grade schools, and a number of churches. My grandparents moved into town after losing their farm during the Depression, and my great grandmother, who lived with them, died at their home in 1939 at the age of 91. So, you see, I have deep roots in this small Red River railroad town that broke ground in several arenas.
I  mention Denison in Dearest Irish, Texas Devlins, Book III.
WordPress Cover 2

Here’s a snippet from the story, set in 1876.
Rose stretched and yawned. Something hard supported her head, and another something lay half across her face. This object felt like cloth and gave off a vaguely familiar scent. Swatting whatever it was away, she opened her eyes and had to squint at the bright sun glaring down at her from on high. In the time it took to blink and shield her eyes with her hand, everything that had befallen her during the night burst upon her like a waking nightmare.
Realizing she lay on the hard ground – she had the aches and pains to prove it – she turned her head to the right and saw Choctaw Jack lying a hand’s breadth away. He lay on his back, head pillowed on his saddle and one arm thrown over his eyes. Where was his hat, she wondered absurdly. Recalling the object she’d pushed off her face, she rose on one elbow and twisted to look behind her. First, she saw that she’d also been sleeping with a saddle under her head; then she spotted the hat she’d knocked into the high grass surrounding them. Jack must have placed it over her face to protect her from the sun’s burning rays. In view of his threat to beat her if she tried to run away again, she was surprised by this small kindness.
A throaty snore sounded from her left. Looking in that direction, she saw Jack’s Indian friend sprawled on his stomach, with his face turned away from her. He was naked from the waist up, his lower half covered by hide leggings and what she guessed was a breechcloth, never having seen one before. His long black hair lay in disarray over his dark copper shoulders.
He snored again, louder this time. Rose’s lips twitched; then she scolded herself for finding anything remotely amusing in her situation. Glancing around, she wondered how far they were from the Double C. Jack had been right to chide her last night. She’d had no idea where they were or in which direction to run for help. Even more true now, she conceded with a disheartened sigh.
She heard a horse snuffle. Sitting upright, she craned her neck to see over the grass and spotted three horses tethered among a stand of nearby trees. She caught her breath. Was one of them Brownie? Aye, she was certain of it. Excited and anxious to greet him, she folded aside the blanket cocooning her and started to rise, but a sharp tug on her ankle made her fall back with an astonished gasp. Only then did she notice the rope tied loosely around her ankle. To her dismay, the other end of the rope was wrapped around Jack’s hand.
“Going somewhere?” he asked, startling her.
Other Books in this series available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble:
White Witch: Texas Devlins Origins (a Prequel Novella) 
Darlin’ Irish: Texas Devlin (Book I)
Dashing Irish: Texas Devlins (Book II)


  1. Lyn--what a wonderful, nostalgic walk through Denison and North Texas. The photos are fantastic.
    My mother was born in 1916--she died three years ago.
    The photo of the wagon caught my eye. In my new WIP of West Texas Brides, in 1902 families left Forth Worth to travel by wagon to the South Plains nears Lubbock. I intended on researching these wagon, for the family must not only carry everything they owned in it out to the free land, they have to use it as living space for a long while.
    You are so good at the photos. I use Wikimedia Commons a lot, too.
    Thanks--good job.

  2. Hi Celia, I was in a nostalgic mood an decided to investigate my dad's hometown. Found out more interesting facts than I expected.

    That photo of my dad on the wagon is one of my favorites. It shows what a cross-over time period he was born into, when autos were already around, but many farm folk still depended on horse or mule-drawn wagons. His parents were "truck farmers", meaning they grew vegetables and carted them to market, probably in that very same wagon.

  3. How interesting, Lyn. Thanks for the post. I tweeted.

  4. What a great post! Denison has a fascinating history. I researched the older days for the series I've got going, Steam! Romance and Rails, which features the Katy RR. Loved your excerpt, and dying to meet Choctaw Jack. Another book going on my Kindle to be read.

  5. Thanks, Ella. As always, your tweet is appreciated. :)

  6. E.E., I must read your book! And I'm so glad you want to meet Jack. He's a hunk with a rough past, but a good guy at heart.

  7. I love old photos like those. Denison sounds like an interesting place.

  8. The Eisenhower museum is fascinating. Good post.

  9. Lyn, loved your post. I so enjoy looking at old historical postcard. It's fascinating to know they had come so far architecturally but still had a long way to go as far as transportation, medicine, et.

    We have several old maps of Waco in the Texas Collection at Baylor and they been put online. It's interesting to see how much the town has changed in just five year.

    Best of luck with Rose's story. Sounds like a winner. My mother's name was Rose so I'm rather partial!

  10. Rain, I love old photos too. I need to drag out more and scan them onto my computer. Thanks for stopping by.

  11. Hi Angelyn, sounds like you've visited the museum. I was there once years ago, really want to go back.

  12. Linda, old maps are fascinating. I have a book of Texas maps that show the progression of forts as white settlers gradually moved westward. I'd love to see those maps at Baylor!

  13. Great post, Lyn. I will have to put Denison on our list of places to visit when we come to Texas. Thank you for sharing.

  14. What a lovely blog. I like it when authors speak about their family history. It gives such insight into the person you have become. I enjoyed all the pictures, too.
    I wish you all the best, Lyn.

  15. Susan, when you come to Texas, you'd better plan a visit with me too. We have a spare bedroom :)

  16. Thank you, Sarah. I like learning about my author friends, and I'm glad you don't mind me gabbing about my family once in a while.

  17. Great Post Lyn. I enjoyed the way you incorporated a bit of your own family history. And as you know I'm a great of all your books!

  18. Thank you, Shar! You have taught me so much over the years about writing, and if it wasn't for you nudging me to try Kindle Direct Publishing, I probably still wouldn't have a book out there. You are the best!

  19. What a terrific post and pictures, Lyn. Nostalgic and informative both. And congrats on the awesome book. I didn't know Eisenhower was from Texas, duh. I guess because I visited his home in Gettysburg. Duh again. Anyway, is the railroad how Katy TX got its name? (have a friend who used to live there before Chevron moved them to Perth, Australia!) Best of luck with the book.

  20. Lyn, I have a lot to share with you about Denison, which is where my dad lived from age 8 until 18. He was born nearby in Pilot Grove. Thanks for the memories you recalled.

  21. Lyn, I used to work in the old MK&T Railroad hospital many, many years ago. My family is from Durant, right across the Red River on the Oklahoma side, and my sister still lives there, so Denison was THE nearest place to go shopping, get medical attention (and live through it) and go to any kind of a restaurant. It takes about 25 minutes to get from Durant to Denison, so it was very handy. Denison had the first shopping mall in that area and the first theater with more than one screen. All of my sister's children were born in the medical center there. I've never been to the Eisenhower museum, though. Great pictures! I love this post!

  22. Where exactly was the old MK &T hospital?


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