Like most Texas cities, Rockwall has largely followed a time-honored tradition of naming its streets after historical figures and events that have helped shape our community. Names like Kaufman, Bourn, Washington, Goliad, Interurban – wait, what? Interurban? As out of place as it may seem in the overall scheme of Rockwall street names, Interurban does indeed have a place in local history, one whose vestiges can still be seen today.
In the early part of the 20th century, Dallas joined dozens of cities across the country in developing an electric railway system to transport a growing population between downtown and surrounding suburban and rural communities. Electric trolleys were in wide use in the downtown core, and steam locomotive driven trains took passengers between major cities. But since the automobile was still an expensive rarity, the options for getting to and from nearby towns were limited to horse-drawn carriages and carts over unpaved and seasonally impassable roads.
This unserved market soon attracted private investors. In 1902, the North Texas Traction Company was formed to build a line between Dallas and Fort Worth, later extended out to Cleburne. In 1905 another company, the Texas Traction Company was formed to build a line to Sherman. The success of these ventures spurred lines to Denton, Waxahachie, Waco, Corsicana and Terrell. All were private ventures, and the interurban railway business was off and running, becoming for a short time the fifth largest industry in the country.
The interurban cars were powered by “electric traction” motors, using the same overhead lines as inner-city trolleys at 600 volts DC. They were surprisingly fast, sometimes hitting 60 miles per hour on straightaways. They weighed up to 40 tons and were as much as 60 feet long. The lines also did substantial freight and mail delivery business.
In 1911, a group of investors in Greenville and Dallas decided it was time to jump on the bandwagon. Forming the Eastern Texas Traction Company, they began plans for a line out to Greenville, with stops in Garland, Rockwall, Fate, Royse City and Caddo Mills. Right of way acquisition commenced in 1912, and by February of the next year approximately nine miles of grading had been completed. The route through Rockwall ran down what is now Interurban Street, along the south side of Lofland Park, now a walking path, and through Harry Myers Park, running between the dog park and the disc golf course. A concrete culvert spanning the creek can be seen just east of the dog park. It is still in use today and is the largest surviving structure built by the ETTC.
Unfortunately, by 1914 it became apparent that the Eastern Texas Traction Company had come a little late to the game. Money began drying up, with stockholders becoming spooked by events in Europe leading up to World War I. By August of that year the company had ceased operations, and construction on the Greenville line was halted. By 1917, Henry Ford had sparked Americas burgeoning love affair with the automobile. One by one, Dallas interurban lines began to decline and ultimately shut down. The Great Depression of 1929 only hastened matters, and by 1948 the last train was retired, ending a chapter in the history of modern transportation systems.
You can see the remnants of our areas place in that history on March 26 on the Rockwall County Hidden Gems Tour. See the event listing for details.
Story by Bob Lewis
Map and vintage photos courtesy of the Interurban Railway Museum
Photos by Planet Rockwall