Texas Central Branch Line Groundbreaking
De Leon-Cross Plains Branch
To be bypassed by a railroad was considered to be a town killer. To become a rail junction was the ultimate goal for a town.
Almost from the time that the Texas Central’s line was completed to Albany, communities began pressing for the construction of branches connecting their cities to others not served by railroads in hopes of bringing new growth to the town. Several towns including De Leon espoused construction of a line to ship coal from locations such as Thurber or from a site near Albany. A Thurber connecting branch would have provided easier access to coal, connected De Leon to Thurber then one of the larger cities in the region and connected De Leon directly to the Texas & Pacific.
Repeated economic panics quashed most of the branch proposals but one finally took root. It was a branch starting in De Leon with plans to run generally westward to Cross Plains and eventually to Abilene and Sweetwater. As has been noted by several historians, more direct branch routes into west Texas were available from other cities such as Carbon and Cisco, but a branch from De Leon heading to Sweetwater effectively cut off any competing railroads seeking to branch to the northwest from the south and east where much of the railroad expansion was originating.
On March 23, 1910 Sipe Springs held a groundbreaking celebration complete with anvil shooting and fireworks just west of that community where the railroad workers were camped. Rising Star followed suit on April 3, 1910.
The official Texas Central groundbreaking celebration was held on April 8, 1910 in De Leon. The ceremony took place along the tracks on the west side of town between Mosley and Coke Street.
The program was put together by A.E. Hampton, C.R. Ayers, Will Williams, S.W. Kenward, W.A. Dyer, Sam Weatherford, Guy Harmon and a Mr. Comer.
De Leon’s Misses Grady Parks and Pearl Hampton were at the helm of a plow with Boliver T. Higginbotham driving the mule. A scrapper was ready to follow the plow with John D. Ham in control and Stella Hampton, Lois Carter, Kate Ayers and Alma Plemmons assisting.
With Parks and Hampton guiding the plow, the first row of dirt was turned for the branch and was followed by the scrapper.
A crowd of several thousand was said to be in attendance however photos show a crowd of a few hundred. A picnic and anvil shooting followed the ceremony. (Anvil shooting was a tradition at many celebrations of the time. Black powder was placed between two anvils stacked one atop the other and the powder lit. The explosion shot the upper anvil into the air. One of the goals was to see how high it could go. Anvil shooting was part of the Armistice Day celebration in 1918 and is noted in the Free Press in 1892 in celebration of the Democrats winning the elections.)
Two similar photos of the event have been located. They were taken from the same location but the crowd had shifted somewhat. The group photo with the white cloud like blotches was included on page 21 of the De Leon Centennial book and was said to have been taken at the opening of the branch in September. It was later identified by B.J. Pittman who is the boy on the bottom left, as having been taken at the ground breaking. Extracts from the two photographs have been made to show the people of the community on that April day in 1910 just over a century ago.