Texas Brazos Trail Region

Participant in the Texas Historical Commission's
Texas Heritage Trails Program

Navasota - A Train Town

Navasota, the Town that Trains Built - by Kyrie O'Conner

If you're planning to go through Navasota on Texas 105, you might want to build in a little extra time, because chances are you're going to have to wait for a train to pass by.

And Navasota is pretty proud of that. According to Corey Johnson, the city's marketing/communications director, some 30 trains a day go through town.

Navasota, population just over 7,000, is so proud of its trains that it was invited by Union Pacific railroad to apply for its Train Town USA designation as part of the railroad's 150th anniversary festivities.

The award makes Navasota one of only three Train Towns in Texas. (Hearne and West are the other two.)

Mayor Bert Miller is especially proud. "When Union Pacific got in touch with us, I did a little research," he says. "The railroad is the main reason Navasota is even here."

In 1859, trains came to Navasota. When track was laid to Madisonville, the town celebrated the event as a holiday. It soon became a rambunctious place crowded with cotton merchants and livestock sellers, brothels and bars. And of course Railroad Street is where the crowds congregated.

The town almost burned down owing to some wandering Confederate veterans meeting up with some freedmen, and there was the small matter of a cholera epidemic and a yellow-fever epidemic. Race riots, too, and ample helpings of crime.

All this continued until 1908, when a young former Texas Ranger named Frank Hamer came to town to become marshal. It was a tough job, but Hamer cleaned up the town in three years. Decades later, he led the posse that shot and killed Bonnie and Clyde in Louisiana.

In the '20s, Navasota supported three or four downtown hotels and three movie theaters, says Miller.

"It's calmed down a lot since then," the mayor says. In fact now it's the slower pace, the "small-town feel" and the stately Victorian and Gothic mansions on Washington Avenue that attract people to town, says Johnson.

The town works with the railroad to make crossings prettier and to reduce the sound of train horns, Johnson adds.

Houston will celebrate its own train history Oct. 27-28, when Union Pacific hosts a free anniversary event at the Amtrak station on Washington Avenue. Union Pacific is bringing in Steam Locomotive No. 844, a traveling museum in a former baggage car and a Mini Train for kids.

Mayor Miller still takes his nephews down to watch the trains pass by sometimes. Because in Navasota, that's what you do.

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