Tyler Tap Railroad, St. Louis Southwestern Railway, and the Cotton Belt Route in Tyler
The Cotton Belt Building which housed the general offices of the St. Louis Southwestern Railway, 1517 West Front Street, Tyler, Texas (Photograph by the author)
I have a long association, and fascination, with the railroad. My grandfather Joseph Leo Bourg, Sr. worked for the Rock Island railroad in Alexandria Louisiana, and my uncle Doyle S. Gibson was a civil engineer with the Cotton Belt. Growing up, many of our neighbors were railroad men, and we lived near the tracks of the Missouri Pacific, Texas & Pacific, the Kansas City Southern.
The railroad, and in particular, the St. Louis Southwestern Railway, has played an important role in business, industry and farming in Tyler and Smith County for over 140 years.
The history of the Cotton Belt is a long, and interesting, one. We will not attempt to document it in detail, as many authors have written excellent, detailed books on the subject, and entire websites are devoted to that subject.
Our interest in the subject started when we first saw the Cotton Belt Building in Tyler, the overpass on Front Street bearing the railroad's name, the depot downtown, the abandoned rail route through Gresham and Flint ... and we wondered how it all fit together. Those sites started our research, and compilation of the story told herein.
We will only present a quick overview of the history of the Cotton Belt from its beginning as the Tyler Tap Railroad, and how it became entwined with the Southern Pacific. We also discuss the 1950s and 60s, when Cotton Belt President Harold J. McKenzie moved the railroad's offices to Tyler, and the Cotton Belt Building on West Front Street was constructed and dedicated. The 75th anniversary of the railroad, in 1952, was likewise a major event with local significance.
The Cotton Belt Depot Museum, Tyler, Texas
(Photograph by the author)
Besides the Cotton Belt Building, another remaining vestige of the glory years of the railroad is the Cotton Belt Depot, today expertly restored and in daily use. And the Cotton Belt's history extends beyond Tyler, to neighboring Texarkana, and Pine Bluff where my uncle Doyle S. Gibson worked for many years as a civil engineer with the Cotton Belt. He was active in the relocation of steam engine #819 to its display in Pine Bluff's Oakland Park, and in the construction of the Pine Bluff Gravity Yard.
Cotton Belt Rouge Pocket Calendar:
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Also included on this site is a list of some of the many references and links about the Cotton Belt. We encourage those with an interest in the railroad to visit the Cotton Belt Depot Museum in downtown Tyler and meet and talk to those with a first-hand knowledge of the railroad and its impact on Tyler. And the Smith County Historical Society is always an excellent repository and resource for the history of every aspect of Tyler and Smith County, including the railroad.
We recognize the hard work, dedication and service of the men and women of the Cotton Belt, and the fine reputation that they built for the railroad over the decades.
The Cotton Belt: In a Series of Articles...
Our history of the Cotton Belt appears as a series of "articles", as shown in the menu in the upper right-hand corner of this page. You can also begin reading articles in the story by clicking on the icon below.
Cotton Belt Menu