Riding the Retail Railroad

Posted by    |    August 13th, 2010 at 8:23 am

The Jewish immigrants who landed at the Port of Galveston ended up in Dallas at some point.  Are you wondering why they chose to leave the lovely coastal town of Galveston for landlocked Dallas?  It was the railroad.

In the 1870s, Dallas was still a relatively small city with little connection to the outside world.  The city’s growth had stalled with no easy way in for those wishing to relocate. 

However, in 1872, Dallas got just what it needed to finally experience explosive growth.  On July 7 of that year, the last tracks of the Houston and Texas Central Railroad opened for business.  And on July 16, “the first excursion train stopped at a spot located approximately where Pacific Avenue crosses under Central Expressway today.  A crowd made up almost entirely of men celebrated with a barbecue feast of roasted buffalo.”  (Mike McAllister, Hidden History of Dallas).

Dallas Union Depot, 1885-1935, now Central Expressway & Pacific Ave.

What did this momentus occasion mean to Dallas retailing?  Not only did the railroad mean population growth (more customers), it also meant that local cotton growers could ship their harvest to markets in the South.  “That meant workers were needed in Dallas, as well as supplies, bringing merchants to the area.” (McAllister).

Many of our founding retailers followed the railroad to Dallas.  German-born Jews Alexander and Philip Sanger were just two who established their stores at track’s end, which in 1872 was Dallas.  The hot rumor at the time was that Dallas was also going to be getting the Texas & Pacific line, making the city the major hub of the Southwest.

” ‘Most of the merchants coming up from the H&TC stopped in Dallas instead of going further north,’ Mr. LaPrelle said (executive director of the Age of Steam Museum at Fair Park). ‘Their bets paid off and that made Dallas a center of commerce very early on, even before the east-west line reached Dallas a year later.’ “  (McAllister)

A year after arriving in Dallas, the H&TC continued building north where it would connect with the Missiouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad in Sherman.  According to A Brief History Railroads in Dallas, “This link between the rail lines gave much needed, direct access for merchants to the supplies and tools they needed from the Northeast and Midwest.”

History would have been much altered if the railroads had not converged in Dallas.  In fact, according to sources at the Dallas Railway Museum, the metropolis of North Texas would probably have been McKinney.  Who knew?

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