Huntsville Branch Railway (Tilley's Tap)

The Huntsville Branch Railway was a "tap" rail line which was chartered as the Huntsville Branch Railway Company in 1871. Support of a railroad through Huntsville was split in the community for a number of reasons. Concerns about loss of business and fear that it would bring "undesirables" to town were major factors in the community's decision not to pay the bonus requested by therailroad. The memory of stagecoach passengers triggering a yellow fever epidemic in 1867 was still fresh in residents' minds as they considered the consequences of a railroad. The railroad decided to bypass Huntsville, but the town leaders continued to work on the project. In 1871 they settled on a tap rail line to run from the main line at phelps to town. The depot location was between downtown Huntsville and Austin college (later the location of Sam Houston Normal Institute) and the Texas Penitentiary. Money to build the tap was contributed by many citizens, both white and African-American.

The first train arrived via the tap in March of 1872. The railway got the nickname "Tilley's Tap" from its colorful conductor, John Robert Tilley. Tilley became conductor on the railroad by 1900 and was well known and liked by passengers and residents of Huntsville. Tilley ran the tap like it was his own and was often summoned from his domino games to begin the trip. He often stopped the train to fish a lake at phelps known as "Tilley's Lake." the branch prospered into the late 1940s as a cargo and passenger train. Freight service continued for 40 years ending in the early 1980s. "Tilley's Tap" was destroyed by a flood and the depot was torn down in 1997.

Images

Huntsville Railroad Depot, ca. 1880.

Huntsville Railroad Depot, ca. 1880.

1412 Avenue J with Huntsville's Walls Unit in the background. View File Details Page

View south from Huntsville Walls Unit

View south from Huntsville Walls Unit

View south from Huntsville (Walls) Unit, Texas Department of Corrections toward Old Main on campus of Sam Houston State University. The "Tilley Special" was the name of the train on "Tilley" tap line , named after its conductor, Mr. J. Robert Tilley. The train ran through 2003, bringing rock, sand and gravel to Bernath Company. | Source: Walker County Historical Commission View File Details Page

Advertisement for the International and Great Northern Railroad

Advertisement for the International and Great Northern Railroad

See the tap line from Phelps to Huntsville View File Details Page

Rawley Samuel Rather home

Rawley Samuel Rather home

Rawley Samuel Rather home, on the northeast corner of University Avenue and 13th Street was most likely built in the 1880s and was torn down in February 1977. The site is now the location of Rather Park, a Huntsville city park. Rawley Rather (1853-1907) attended Austin College in Huntsville, was the owner of a livery stable with horses, buggies and wagons for rent or for sale, operated a mail route, owned the Pacific Express Company transporting goods, freight, and people from the railroad junction in Phelps, Texas to Huntsville and other nearby towns and was part owner of a drugstore on the Courthouse Square. For many years he was a member of the Huntsville City Council, and was Mayor of Huntsville at the time of his death. | Source: Walker County Historical Commission View File Details Page

Houston Post Story on the tap line to Huntsville.

Houston Post Story on the tap line to Huntsville.

Appeared in the Houston Post on March 26, 1922 page 50. View File Details Page

Rail depot at Dodge, Texas.

Rail depot at Dodge, Texas.

A later addition to the regional rail line was this depot at Dodge. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Texas Historical Marker, “Huntsville Branch Railway (Tilley's Tap),” East Texas History, accessed June 26, 2017, http://easttexashistory.org/items/show/234.

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