The railroad comes to Panther City

All aboard for a five-minute history of how locomotives changed Fort Worth’s landscape.


The arrival of the railroad sparked a boom in population and business in Fort Worth.

Photo courtesy of UTA Libraries

Table of Contents

Welcome back to our five-minute Fort Worth history series, where we talk about different eras in our city’s history for five minutes (clever name, we know).

Catch up quick with a quick breakdown of the city’s establishment and some of the rough-and-tumble years of cattle drives and Hell’s Half Acre.

This month, we’re chugging right along with the story of when the railroad came to town.


Over 50 years after the railroad arrived, the iconic Texas & Pacific Railroad Passenger Station was built on Lancaster Street.

Photo courtesy of UTA Libraries.

Close but no cigar

In the early 1870s, construction of the Texas and Pacific Railway (T&P) was rocketing across the state from east to west, reaching 130 miles from Longview to just west of Dallas.

The Panic of 1873 hit and Jay Cook & Co., the Philadelphia-based investment firm financing the railroad, went under. It took another three years to build 30 miles of tracks to Fort Worth.

The stalled railroad project swept the feet out from under the burgeoning Fort Worth and left the streets empty — prompting the sleeping panther joke that gave our city its nickname.


In 1873, B.B. Paddock drew an ambitious map of rail lines emanating from Fort Worth, three years before the railroad reached town.

Image courtesy of UTA Libraries

A group effort

Cowtown residents, including John Peter Smith, banded together to form the Tarrant County Construction Company and pooled money, labor, and supplies to restart the railroad construction in 1875.

Confederate veteran Major K. M. Van Zandt led the charge, using 320 acres of (then southside) land donated by himself, Ephraim Daggett, Thomas Jefferson Jennings, and other local landowners.

The crews worked day and night to construct the railroad before the state’s land grant ended in 1876 — and they succeeded, completing the last two miles between Sycamore Creek and downtown in five days.

The first trained rolled into town on July 19 at 11:23 a.m., blowing the whistle on a new era for Fort Worth.


Passing trains are a common sight and sound in Fort Worth.

Still chugging along

The railroad is still an important part of our town today as Fort Worth is home to the headquarters for BNSF Railway, one of the largest freight railroads in North America. Just take a peak over the Hulen Street overpass to see the lines in action.

Let us know what era of Cowtown history you want to read next.

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