FIRST STOCKHOLDER TELLS OF GH&H
One of Original Backers Gives History of Pioneer
An interesting account of the early history of
the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railway is contained in
the current issue of the Southern Pacific Bulletin, edited in Houston
by H. M. Mayo. Charles Babbidge, the author of the article is a
resident of Montclair, N.J., and in his eighty-first year. Mr. Babbidge
was treasurer and assistant secretary of the H.H.& S.A. from 1870
until the assumption of Harriman control in 1901.
Before Civil War.
The Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railway was originally
called the Buffalo Bayou & Colorado R.R. Chartered to run from Harrisburg
on Buffalo Bayou across the Brazos River to the Colorado River thence
to Austin. It was built to Alleyton prior to the civil war I think.
A few years after the war the road was sold out under foreclosure
of mortgage. A new company was formed under the name of B.B.B. & C.
R.R. Nav. Co.
The H. & T. C. R.R. Co. having built its Hempstead branch to Austin,
the extension of the line to that city was abandoned.
A new charter was obtained in December,1870, under the name of
the G. H. & S. A. Ry. to build to San Antonio.
There were five persons in the new company holding interests as
follows: T. W. Peirce, one-fourth; Oakes Ames, one-fourth; John
Sledge, one-fourth; John Sealy, one-eighth; J. F. Barrett, one-eighth.
Mr. Sledge very soon sold his interest to Mr. Peirce, the failure
of Oliver Ames & Sons made it necessary for Mr. Peirce to buy the
interest of Mr. Ames. Later on Mr. Sealy and Mr. Barrett sold out.
Mr. Peirce thus becoming sole owner with the exception of a few
shares issued for construction purposes which ownership he retained
until he joined Mr. C. P. Huntington and Associates in control of
the Southern Pacific Company.
The original officers of the G. H. & S. A. Ry. Co. were T. W.
Peirce, president; F. T. LeEstrange, secretary and assistant treasurer;
Charles Babbidge, treasurer and assistant secretary.
The general office of the company was at first in Galveston and
afterwards in Harrisburg and later in Houston.
The executive office was in Boston where the annual and most of
the directors meetings were held.
Mr. LeEstrange served only a short time, Mr. J. E. Fisher being
elected in his place. Mr. Peirce remained as president until his
death in October, 1885, being succeeded by Mr. Huntington who served
until his death in August, 1900.
Mr. Babbidge served as treasurer and assistant secretary until
sometime in the 90's when the Texas law required the treasurer to
reside in that state, continuing, however, as assistant secretary
until the company was turned over with other Southern Pacific property
to Mr. Harriman in 1901. Among the other early officers of the G.
H. & S. A. were Col. H. B. Andrews, as vice president; C. C. Gibbs,
freight agent; T. W. Peirce, general passenger and ticket agent;
James Converse, chief engineer; George B. Nichols, superintendent;
D. T. Davis, master mechanic; later W. G. Van Vleck was general
superintendent and I think general manager. The years 1868 to 1873
were called years of great railroad building in this country. Nearly
30,000 miles were constructed during this period. This excessive
building brought on the panic of 1873.
The panic following the burning of Chicago in 1871 and the great
fire in Boston in 1872 made the raising of money for railroads almost
impossible for many years and foreclosures were common. It was during
this period that the repairs to the old road and extension to San
Antonio were undertaken.
Mr. Converse was put in charge of location and a Mr. Lawrence
Kellett in charge of construction, the latter was shortly afterward
unfortunately killed and Mr. Converse assumed his duties also.
Owning to the difficulty of raising money as referred to the progress
was slow but steady. In order to hasten the work the county of Bexar
voted an issue of $300,000 bonds to be given the company on the
completion of the road to San Antonio within a certain time. The
road was opened to San Antonio in February, 1877, just in time to
secure this grant. After the line had been built to San Antonio
a route to Fredericksburg was surveyed about seventy-five miles
long. Mr. Peirce and Mr. Converse desired to build to that point,
but the new interests which had then come into the company did not
coincide and so it was not built.
Had it been the San Antonio & Aransas Pass would never have been
built to Kerrville and afterward extended east from San Antonio
in competition with the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio. This
error in judgment cost the Southern Pacific Company the very large
amount of money required to purchase the San Antonio & Aransas Pass.
Eagle Pass Extension
After Mr. Peirce became associated with Mr. Huntington it was
determined to extend the line to El Paso with a branch to Eagle
Pass. Owing to greater facilities for raising money this extension
of 640 miles was completed early in 1883, making a through line
from New Orleans to San Francisco.
There were many interesting things connected with those olden
One of the first things done in rehabilitating the old line east
of Columbus was the building of a new iron bridge across the Brazos
River. During its construction a low water bridge of piling was
built. The trains would run down one bank and up the other.
After the completion of the new bridge, at a cost of many thousands
of dollars, Superintendent Nichols planned an excursion to Columbus.
All went well on the outward trip, but when the party reached the
bridge on its return that afternoon the water had risen forty feet
and covered it. It was supposed the bridge was lost and telegram
to that effect was sent the Boston office, causing much gloom which,
however, was removed by a later dispatch that the bridge was safe.
Mr. Nichols had in the meantime secured a cable, fastened one end
around the false work and the other to his locomotive and tore away
the false work, releasing the water and saving the bridge.
I have referred to the death of Mr. Kellett, which was not only
very unfortunate but very singular. In the performance of his duties
he was riding in the caboose of a freight train and for some reason
started to go forward. At the same time a Negro brakeman also desired
to go forward, but seeing Mr. Kellett, he stepped aside to allow
Mr. Kellett to go first.
Mr. Kellett reached for the ladder on the end of the freight car,
but just at that moment the train broke apart at that point and
he fell between the cars.
At the close of the Civil War there were I think but four railroads
in Texas and only one extending to a border. The Galveston, Houston
& Henderson Railroad ran from Galveston to Houston, the Houston
& Texas Central Railroad from Houston some miles north, the Texas
& New Orleans Railroad from Houston a few miles east and the B.
B. B. & C. Railroad from Harrisburg eighty miles west. Thus no entrance
to Texas by rail was possible and it was not until well into the
seventies that the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad entered Texas
and connected with the Houston & Texas Central, which by that time
had reached Denison.
Up to that time the only way to enter was either by steamer from
the sea or by rail to New Orleans and thence to Brasher (now Morgan
City) and Morgan steamer from there to Galveston. Under these conditions
it was difficult to secure rolling stock. In order to do so it was
necessary to charter a schooner with what was called a free deck.
The trucks would be removed from engine tenders and cars and stowed
below deck and the rest placed on the sides of the vessel between
the masts and rails. The cost of thus loading an engine would be
These engines were small, weighing about 16 tons with cylinders
about 12-16. The passenger cars were short and low studded, seating
abut fifty people. It was quite a problem what sort of covering
to put on the cushions of the car seats as the cowboys had a habit
of putting their feet on them without first removing spurs. Cane
seats were cooler, but would not last. Plush would last only until
the cowboys cut them.
It is perhaps not known by many of the people of these times that
there was as late as the early 70's no standard gauge for railroads,
or at least it was not observed. In the North most of the roads
were 4 feet 8-1/2 inches, although the Erie and its connection were
six feet. In the Southern and some Western states the gauges were
five feet and upward. This prevented much interchange of freight
cars and as late as 1883 passenger cars bound South on the Southern
Railway had to have their trucks changed at Danville.
Following the example of other roads the Galveston, Harrisburg
& San Antonio adopted "Sunset Route" for a slogan as starting at
Houston the trains went west toward the setting sun.
The public used to say the reason for the name was that while
the trains started in the morning the sun had set before they reached
The T. & N. O. and L. W. adopted "Star and Crescent" for their
slogan, but on completion of the through line that was dropped and
the name Sunset applied to all.
From Galveston News
Sunday December 16, 1928.