The town plat of Mount Airy, Texas was drawn by Theo. Kosse, the railroad’s surveyor who also laid out De Leon and most of the new towns along the route of the Texas Central.
Mount Airy as platted, was almost four times the size of De Leon. The plat is from the Erath County Commissioner’s Court Records.
(Note that the Houston and Texas Central Railway and the Texas Central Railway were two separate entities with a similar combination of owners. The Houston and Texas Central held the construction contract to build the Texas Central line from Ross Station into Eastland County. )
Chartered on May 31, 1879 the Texas Central Railway began construction of a railroad line westward from Ross Station north of Waco in late 1879. By early December 1880, tracks had been laid to Mount Airy Hill just inside Erath county between present day Dublin and De Leon. Looking west from the crest of Mount Airy Hill provides a vast view of what in that day was the sparsely settled Leon River valley as well as a panorama of much of Comanche and even part of Eastland County. Seven miles to the west were over 30,000 acres of land owned by the Houston and Texas Central Railway Company.
The Texas Central had big plans for Mount Airy Hill. Atop it was to be the largest city between Waco and the then planned terminus of the railroad in Eastland County. It was to be the center of commerce and the main distribution point along the railroad. The city’s plat was recorded in the Erath County Commissioners Court records on December 21, 1880. The plat included 48 city blocks of which 32 were subdivided into 10 residential lots per block and 16 blocks subdivided into commercial lots or a combination of commercial and residential lots. Another 20 tracts would provide roughly the equilivent of 72 standard blocks for future growth. By comparison, the railroad laid out only 35 blocks in the plat of De Leon six months later.
The railroad set December 31, 1880 as the the date for the auction to sell lots in the new city. Although it appears to be somewhat of an exaggeration, according to the Comanche Chief, 50,000 broadsides (or circulars) were distributed throughout Texas announcing the auction.
No report on the auction itself has been located to date but lots were sold and by February 1881, Mt. Airy had a depot, three stores and two saloons. Two months later a railroad agent had been selected for the station and John Gorman and a Mr. Mobley (possibly J.R. Mobley) had opened their mercantile company. R.T. Childs had established a general receiving and forwarding commission business in the town to accommodate the two passenger, mail and express trains arriving daily. A home was being built by a Mr. Morrison opposite the depot on what was called Front Street. There was actually no street by that name. What was called a street was simply the railroad right-of-way with lots that faced the tracks on one side and a small alley on the rear. This was a common practice in those days however, as time passed and railroad property changed hands, those lot owners often found their only access was via the alley, leaving the property with little value.
Mount Airy had taken on the look of a town even though Dublin’s newspaper The Telephone suggested that the town site would be much improved if the brush was trimmed from around the depot. Even the Comanche Chief which staunchly disliked the Texas Central because it had bypassed their community, had to acknowledge that Mount Airy made mail service more reliable and access to supplies much easier. Then on July 1, 1881, the telegraph lines reached Mount Airy making it temporarily at least, the most western city along the Texas Central with telegraph service.
During the winter of 1880-1881, the engineers for the Texas Central had to resolve a problem. They needed to determine how after leaving what is now Dublin, to best lay the rails to the Houston and Texas Central land roughly ten miles to the west. The elevation between Dublin (1,461 feet) and Mount Airy (1,456 feet) is basically imperceptible. However, between the two points the terrain rises more than eighty feet to the top of what is now called Dublin Hill and then falls toward Mount Airy Hill. Approaching Dublin Hill from the east presented no siginificant problem for the engineers as the line had almost three miles of relativey straight track to cover the grade rise. Upon reaching Dublin Hill, the engineers swung the tracks a little northward, avoiding the steeper portion of the the hill and followed the contur of the land at the 1,450 to 1,460 foot level. Then, curving the tracks back sightly southward, they were able to limit the buiding of large dumps to only two areas before reaching the Mount Aairy townsite.
The western slope of Mount Airy Hill stands about 200 feet above Theney or what is now Comyn. The original intent was to turn back west in the general direction Round Grove. But when the survey was completed, it was obvious that that route would be much steeper. It would also be necessary to cross several small tributaries which fed Cow Creek, Armstong Creeek and the Leon River.
The enginers then elected to maintain the direction of the road on the same sightly southwestern route on which the line had entered the town of Mount Airy. That course required that across a half mile of the hill, the crews had to make three large cuts with depths of up to twenty feet in the terrain and the build up two low areas by as much as twelve feet. When completed, the rails stood at the western edge of the hill.
The descent of the western slope was made through a series of three horizontal stair steps each heading first in a more southerly direction and then turning more westward. The grade dropped almost two hundred feet from about 1,440 feet at the edge of the hill to 1,249 at Theney three miles away. From Dublin Hill to Theney, the grade dropped more than 300 feet.
The effect of the ultimate route chosen was to form a large bow. The string of the bow would have been a straight line from Dublin to De Leon. The bow itself arched southward throught the village of Theney then swung north toward the originally planned route.
Once down the hill, the rails reached Theney (present day Comyn) in late March 1881. The tracks were laid into what is now De Leon on April 10, 1881 but continued further westward toward present day Cisco without actually auctioning off lots in De Leon. A temporary depot was apparently built or operated out of a rail car. The stop came to be called Coonerville Station presumably after the Cooner family that lived in the area.
What ever happened to Mount Airy? It still exist in a sense. A peanut plant was constructed there a couple of decades ago and for a number of years a faded red arrow with the words “Mt. Airy” that was mounted atop a thirty foot pole pointing to that plant provided the only indication that the community ever existed.
Mount Airy seemed to have had several significant problems in its growth. The first and most serious was a lack of ground water. West Texas was in one of its periodic dry spells in 1881. Comanche County registered its first rain in two months on July 19, 1881. Correspondence from one of the railroad’s attorneys to his partner in November 1881 indicated that he had purchased a well in Comanche County from a Mr. Logsdon and that a deed problem had been encountered. He stated, “The well is of the greatest importance to the Ry Co (Railway Company) and must be secured at any cost.
Water had to be scarce in Mount Airy. There is an area about one mile wide that stretches from the eastern edge of De Leon, northeast to Mount Airy Hill within which there are virtually no shallow wells and and few deep wells. People may have realized very quickly that accessible water would be a continuing problem in Mount Airy. Just four years later a historically severe drought hit Texas that is still among the worst ever. Except for a few scattered showers, it did not rain from 1885 until 1887 and many towns west of line from Austin to Fort Worth had to be abandoned. Even the towns with producing wells struggled to hang on. That blow could have effectively assured that Mount Airy evolved into nothing more than a crossroads rather than the prime city of the area.
A persistent problem continued to be the grade between Comyn and Mount Airy. Because the locomotives burned wood, the eastbound trains could not stop at Comyn and then gather enough power to make it up the grade to Mount Airy. So, until the engines were converted to coal, passengers and freight that were eastbound were loaded in Mount Airy and those westbound were loaded in Comyn.
Two other factors that held back Mount Airy were the rise of De Leon and Dublin. After De Leon was established, the rail distribution point for much of Comanche and Brown counties shifted away from Mount Airy, eliminating most of its trade to the south. But the real killing blow may have occured when the Texas Railroad Commission in 1891 ruled that the Texas Central had to stop at Dublin and that same year the U.S. Supreme Court separated ownership of the Texas Central and the Houston and Texas Central.
Because the citizens of the original community of Dublin had not provided the railroad with right-of-way during construction, the town was bypassed to the north by the railroad. The Texas Central did not have ownership of the adjacent land and even though residents moved from old Dublin to the rails, since new Dublin was not a railroad town the train did not stop until it reached Mount Airy. Add to that, the fact that with the court ruling, the Houston and Texas Central no longer had ownership in the Texas Central, it also no longer had an incentive to promote the sale of H&TC land to the benefit of a Texas Central city.
The depot in Mount Airy was still active in 1887 but had been discontinued by 1898. The side tracks were still used for many years. A few foundations of buildings that may not even date from the 1880s period and a small cemetery about a half mile away give few clues to the grand plans for the city on the hill. Mount Airy’s location is immediately south of Texas Highway 16 and after more than a century a TxDOT sign was finally installed to at least mark the county road leading to the site.