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Published: October 8th 2019
US Hwy 69
North of Alto
According to Wikipedia, the Texas State Railroad started construction near Rusk, Texas; built by inmates of the new Rusk Penitentiary to transport raw materials for the iron blast furnace at the Penitentiary. The building of the Texas State Railroad and the Rusk Penitentiary are linked with both located in the Rusk area, and both starting operations in 1883. In 1906 the railroad reached Maydelle. Then in 1909 the railroad was completed to Palestine in Anderson County. The hardest part of the railroad construction was the trestle over the Neches River, from Cherokee County to Anderson County. Now the Texas State Railroad is operated as a scenic tourist train line through the countryside.
The real story about the Texas State Railroad is from the old Rusk Penitentiary (1883-1917). Now the old penitentiary is located in the Rusk State Hospital (a medium security prison). I thought there was no chance for my entry; and they were getting ready to demolish that last remaining building completed in 1883. Well today (Oct. 7, 2019) I got permission for a guided tour of that huge building days before the demolishing. I got to take my Cherokee County guide and railroad historian. When we arrived at
Rusk Penitentiary (prison)
US Hwy 69 North side of Rusk
the hospital we found that my Cherokee guide just happened to know our hospital guide. Near the end of our tour the hospital guide gave me the free choice of sandstone block fragments from the building, and I chose one with green moss growing on the rock. The best thing was at the end of our one hour tour, is they did not decide to keep me LOL. The tour included the center space (bottom floor) of the main Administration Building (where there was still electrical service). Then we toured the entire third floor that did house patients of the Rusk State Hospital. The third floor was a very good tour experience while being a little hot for comfort. On the East end of the third floor you can see the 1888 electric power plant with its two large smoke stacks. (Unfortunately the old power plant is also slated for demolition soon.) The entire Rusk State Hospital was painted a standard white colour. After our tour of the grounds around several other old buildings, we thanked our nice hospital guide for her good tour service.
The only penitentiary at the time was the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville that
from inside photo
same pic as found on internet
was very overcrowded. Many factors caused Texas to build a second Penitentiary in Rusk, Texas. Other factors beside the overcrowding of Huntsville including: the abundance of iron ore, the abundance of coal deposits, the abundance of wood to cook down to charcoal, the handy Cotton Belt Railroad, and the need to build the Texas State Railroad connecting the Cotton Belt Railroad (Rusk) to the International & Great Northern Railroad (IGN Railroad) in Palestine. The prisoners of the Rusk Penitentiary provided most of the labor & much of the materials for the new railroad. The Rusk prisoners also did contract work for the local businesses and farms. The work loads of the prisoners helped pay a large part of the costs of the Rusk Penitentiary.
In 1888 the Rusk Penitentiary completed an electric power plant for the facility and its nearby manufacturing shops, ice factory, a brick kiln, a sawmill, several iron foundries, and a blast furnace. The first iron blast furnace was the 25 ton (per day) charcoal burning "Old Alcalde". The second replacement iron blast furnace was the better 50 ton coke burning "Sam Lanham". The iron foundries made pipes, some other iron products, and mostly pig (cast)
iron. These iron products were used for the State of Texas and sold to other companies, and some was exported outside the state. In about 1910 the iron production became very unprofitable and was shut down. The blast furnace and the iron foundries are all long gone.
In 1917 the Rusk Penitentiary was closed and became an insane asylum mostly for Afro-Americans. In 1919 the facility became the Rusk State Hospital for the insane people of all races. (One old 1925 building corner-stone listed the building as the East Texas Hospital for the Insane; but I find that an unimportant difference from the 1919 facts.) There was a number of large scale renovations of the Rusk Penitentiary, especially the changing of the original pitched roof (found on old internet sites) to a flat roof of today. Construction started in phases to build many more buildings for the Rusk State Hospital. They even planted many large nice magnolia, pecan, and oak trees in the facility that would have a soothing effect on the patients.
I started my days trip on US Hwy 69 Northbound to Rusk, where I turned West on US Hwy 84. First, not far from Rusk,
I made a photo stop on US Hwy 84 by the Texas State Railroad Car & Locomotive Shop. (The railroad tracks crossing US Hwy 84 is a spur line to connect the Texas State Railroad with the Cottonbelt Railroad in Rusk, Texas.)
Then I made a quick stop by the Texas State Railroad Park. The entry fee for the Park with the Rusk Station was reasonable, but I did not have time to visit the station. (I had a nice ride on the Texas State Railroad years ago.) I just now found my pics from the Rusk Depot for the Texas State Railroad from about ten years ago.
I made a brief stop near Dialville to get my local guide and railroad historian; where we used his truck with four wheel drive (4X4). We drove back US Hwy 64 West past the old TJ Rusk Hotel needing repairs in downtown Rusk. Then we turned North on US Hwy 69 the short distance to the Rusk State Hospital (West Side of the hwy) for a very nice tour. Then we drove West on US Hwy 84 to see more of the Texas State Railroad. All of the Texas State
Cherokee County guide
Railroad is on the South side of hwy 84.
We drove a few miles East of Maydelle, and turned South on County Road 2108; crossing the Texas State Railroad to visit the Cherokee County Wines. I was greeted by a large friendly goat outside the winery. Inside they had a nice wine museum. This includes a photo of Maydelle Campbell, and a photo of the original Maydelle Train Depot, now long gone. We met a few Texas historians and the BS got very deep; fortunately we all had our boots on LOL. They gave us many good fruit wine samples. I am not a wine drinker, but the wines were of very high quality. They told us that when a train passed their two buildings, their whole buildings would shake from the weight of the nearby trains. We did not purchase any wines, but they were happy to chat with us.
Maydelle, Texas was named for the daughter of Texas Governor Thomas M. Campbell. It is located about ten miles West of Rusk, Texas on US Hwy 84. Maydelle Campbell did some singing at the opening of the townsite in 1906 or 1907. We made a photo stop
by the second Maydelle Train Depot Museum not open to the public, (first depot is long gone). The live railroad track was right next to the depot. We made the short walk to the Maydelle train turn-a-round (not functional now); where they could spin the track to turn the engine with tender (with fuel) around to go in the opposite direction.
On the North side of the hwy can be seen the Trading Post, still open for business. About ten meters West of the Trading Post is the remains of the Cushing Hotel that served as a grocery, market, bank; but never as a hotel. (The Hotel is somewhat visible from Hwy 84, but very hard to see while driving.) The Cushing Hotel was used in filming a James Garner movie in 1981 about a town called Cushing, Oklahoma. My guide told me wisely not to enter the open side of that structure; so nobody would think we were stealing artifacts from there. I used a long stick to move a old small electric motor into the open long nuff to shoot (with Nikon) the motor. (Not far from Maydelle, in Nacogdoches County, is Cushing, Texas.)
the North side of Maydelle on a county road is the old Maydelle School, abandoned about fifty years ago. Continuing North on the County Road (to Gent) is the Maydelle Water Supply that is still used by the nearby people. About fifty meters North of the water supply tanks sits a very nice 1951 Packard motor car. The page on the windshield said the Packard was for sale for $3500 USD; not affordable on my Social Security. I would have paid money for the hood ornament that I would mount on the hood of my pickup truck "Old Blue".
That area was first settled by European Americans in the 1840s. Later the Rusk Penitentiary housed prisoners for making charcoal for the prison iron foundry blast furnace on site. The prisoners also made bricks on site and gathered sandstone blocks for construction. Iron ore was everywhere in that area and easy to pick up or mine. Around Henderson, Texas (Rusk County) there was very large coal deposits that could be cooked to coke to supplement the wood charcoal fuel for the blast furnace. The coal was expensive cuz it was a two day horse and wagon trip to get the
Rusk State Hospital
inside old pic or drawing
coal to the prison blast furnace. There was also smaller coal deposits near Rusk and New Birmingham. The State of Texas sold the pig iron and bricks to businesses to help pay for the prison costs.
Maydelle was founded in 1906 or 1907. Maydelle was thriving in 1914 and peaked with 150 residents thanks to the Texas State Railroad. Many of the citizens of the de-funked towns of Gent, Java, Mount Comfort, Pine Town and smaller communities moved to Maydelle. It is said that there are now about 250 residents there now. There is no hwy sign for Maydelle, but there is still a post office there. Maydelle is still on most Texas road maps. (We found Gent on Gent Mountain, but that was another blog.)
The only other de-funked town that we found was Java (West of Maydelle); and all that was left of Java was a sign by the Texas State Railroad at the old Java train stop, now long gone.
It was raining hard when we arrived at the US Hwy 84 bridge over the Neches River. First we viewed the North side of the river. Then we drove to a large area on
Rusk State Hospital
several different renovations
the South side of the highway. (Good thing we had four wheel drive or we would have been walking back!) A few days later we returned to the bridge and I shot pics on a beautiful day.
I am including some internet pics of the train crossing the trestle over the Neches River somewhere South of the highway bridge. Without a boat we could not get to the Texas State Railroad trestle over the Neches River. I included a few internet pics of that trestle. If we later get a boat to see that trestle, I will add that to this blog.
Then we crossed the Neches River into Anderson County. We went south on an unmarked road and drove up what the locals call "Tater Mountain". There used to be a overlook with a good view. Now with large trees blocking the view, its just a nice place to visit.
It was raining when we got to Palestine. (Just East of Palestine was the Texas State Railroad Park that we did not enter.) At downtown Palestine we saw the old IGN railroad that tied into the Texas State Railroad.
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