(Editor’s note - The Ennis Journal is taking a look at the city of Ennis under a theme of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” Last week, the Journal interviewed City Manager Steve Howerton about the airport. This week, the Journal focuses on the railroad and its impact on the community.)
The city of Ennis was named for the man who brought the trains and in turn prosperity and a livelihood for many in the community. That man was the director of the Houston and Central Texas Railroad, Cornelius Ennis.
The trains first came to the area in 1871 but the city itself was not established until a year later. The area described in the film shown at the Ennis Railroad and Cultural Heritage Museum as “a pioneer town with a spirit of adventure” thrived with the boost to the economy and quickly grew. Twenty years later, as a result of the growth, the Texas & New Orleans Railroad (a division of the Southern Pacific system) built a shop and yard area called the roundhouse to store the trains and an area to work on the steam engines. The new larger depot replaced the smaller one that was built in 1871, with the smaller building retaining the office area for the railroad line until it was destroyed in a fire in the 1830s. The new industry boasted about 1,000 employees and was the predominant workforce for the area despite the long arduous hours and the backbreaking work.
A depot was added with a place for visitors to eat while they waited for the train or enjoyed a break before the next leg of their journey began. The facility was known as the lunchroom and was also called the Van Noy restaurant.
Ennis grew from being known as a “Wild West” type of town and became known as the area where the large cotton crops the county was known for were shipped from. The agriculture industry was advanced by the ability to take the finished product from the various cotton gins throughout the county and ship them throughout the country via the trains.
By the 1880s, the city of Ennis had become the center of the banking and agricultural center in the eastern part of the county with Ennis National Bank holding the title of the largest bank in the county in 1883.
With the continued advancement of the transportation industry, however, the railroad changed. Southern Pacific Railroad moved its headquarters to the Dallas/Fort Worth area and the railroad’s impact on the city slowed down.
Ennis no longer has a depot for passengers to buy tickets or eat lunch, and the roundhouse is long since gone. Still, the city retains much of its history of being built on the railroad and about 16 trains pass through the city each day. The imprint of the roundhouse and rail yard can still be seen from aerial views of the city and stood from Martin Luther King Boulevard to Casa Linda Drive.
To help preserve the heritage and culture the community was built on, in 1991 the city of Ennis acquired the building where the Railroad and Cultural Heritage Museum is now housed. The museum features a display of what the railroad offices looked like, including turn of the century appliances and communications devices, a replica of the roundhouse and yard, as well as various items from the steam engine trains.
The museum also houses several veteran’s displays, including a tribute to Jack Lummus, an Ennis native who posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in World War II.
For more information on the museum and hours of operation, contact the city of Ennis, (972) 875-1234.
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