Since Paul Bremond laid track from Houston to Nacogdoches County in 1883, railroads have been a part of Nacogdoches history.
From the start, the railroad became a cornerstone for the City of Nacogdoches. In 1880, the population was a mere 400 people, but, according to a Nacogdoches newspaper, the population had skyrocketed to 1,200 residents and had a, “large supply and variety of businesses,” by 1884. The arrival of the railroad in May 1883 was a celebrated event, which was commemorated by banquets, bands, barbecues and speeches.
The first railroad to come through Nacogdoches was the Houston East & West Texas (HE&WT) with its ten locomotives, eight passenger cars, four baggage cars, 546 freight cars and twelve handcars. With the railroad, came the shift in the local economy from farming and cotton growing to lumber and other industries. The HE&WT operated for many years on a three-foot narrow gauge track, rather than the standard four feet eight inches, and was given the nickname “Hell Either Way Taken” because of the bumpy ride passengers could expect.
In 1894, an effort to standardize the railroad resulted in the entire line being changed from six-foot ties to eight-foot ties in one day, without interrupting the passenger train schedule.
Nacogdoches became a major crossroads for the railroad in 1903, when the Texas and New Orleans line, the T&O, laid tracks from Beaumont to Dallas going through Nacogdoches. The Houston East and West Texas operated under its own name until 1934, when it became part of the Southern Pacific Railway Line. The Southern Pacific later merged with Union Pacific in 1996.
The Nacogdoches Railroad Depot, which today is owned by the City of Nacogdoches, was constructed in 1911 and replaced a wooden depot that had burned to the ground after being struck by lightning in 1910. The Nacogdoches Railroad Depot is the only surviving depot on the old HE&WT line and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.
The Nacogdoches Railroad Depot has seen many things in its lifetime: tourist arriving for the opening of Aqua Vitae Park in 1910, families traveling to Shreveport to see the Ringling Brothers Circus, young men leaving and arriving home from World War I and II, Women’s Auxiliary Corps volunteers arriving during WWII and many other everyday people on their travels.
After WWII and the growing popularity of cars, the amount of passengers traveling on the railroad declined, and the Southern Pacific stopped passenger service to the Nacogdoches Depot on August 4, 1954. The Nacogdoches Railroad Depot has been converted into a museum depicting the importance of all transportation in the early development of Nacogdoches.