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.