This is a story about the century-long rise and fall of the village of Pittsville, Texas. It is an illustration of how vision and planning impacts cities and how a lack of vision literally led one town to ruin.
The Texas State Historical Association has recorded a brief history of Fulshear, Texas as well as that of the village of Pittsville, Texas. The two towns were born of local landowners. Through opportunities, choice, and change, only one of the two towns would have a future.
A historical marker along the west side of FM 359 between Fulshear and Brookshire alerts passers-by to the approximate location of the all-but-forgotten village of Pittsville. According to the location of the sign, the community was located approximately 3.2 miles north of the current City of Fulshear along what is now FM 359. Except for the historic marker, little remains of Pittsville, short of fading family memories, archived historical photographs, and opportunities sadly missed.
The Founding of Pittsville
According to the historical marker dedicated and placed on the site in 2012, the village of Pittsville, Texas was founded in the 1840s. Pittsville was named after the major store owners in the area, A. R. and Amanda (Wade) Pitts. The Pitts’ were among the area’s early settlers. Their store must have been a veritable anchor to the community as the village enjoyed relatively consistent growth over the next twenty years.
In 1860, the village of Pittsville claimed 240 residents and by 1870, Pittsville appears to have been an up-and-coming town, complete with a post office, a school, a photo studio, and other essential services such as a blacksmith and millinery as well as other businesses. These were certainly the types of businesses and accoutrements one would expect of such a young, but growing community.
As time progressed, Pittsville achieved a true milestone in the life of the small, but growing village. This came in the form of what today’s governmental leaders would call increased mobility.
A Brief History of the Texas Western Railway
Originally promoted in 1870, The “Western Narrow Gauge Railway Company” was planned to run from St. Emanuel and Commerce streets in Houston to San Antonio and points far to the west. Its founders offered investors a grandiose vision, which, due to insufficient funding and ongoing financial troubles, would never be fulfilled.
The relatively close proximity of a railroad that could take their agricultural products to markets in Houston in hours instead of days appears to have meant greater economic opportunities for those in the growing area. Pittsville, it may have seemed, was destined for great things.
The railroad broke ground in 1872. It got off to a slow start as actual construction didn’t actually begin until 1875, at which time it was renamed the “Texas Western Narrow Gauge Railway Company”. Over the next two years, the railway would extend its westerly reach forty-two miles from downtown Houston.
As it pushed westward, the Texas Western passed through the areas to the south of what would later become Katy. The railroad continued along a northwesterly path that would bring it to approximately four miles northeast of Pittsville. From there, the railroad continued through an area to the north of what would become Brookshire. The railway construction paused when the tracks reached the newly-formed railroad town of Pattison, Texas in 1877.
Within two years, hard times befell the poorly capitalized railroad. After suffering a financial failure and a subsequent bankruptcy in 1879, followed by a reorganization in 1881, the railroad was renamed the “Texas Western Railway Company”. Following the reorganization, the line was extended from Pattison, across the Brazos River and is reported to have entered Sealy, Texas by 1882. Within ten years of breaking ground, the railroad had a new name, new owners, and it had grown to what was to be its ultimate length of 52 miles.
Opportunity Knocks Only Once
It is documented in regional historical archives and often rumored in local lore, that Pittsville missed a golden opportunity to secure its anticipated place in history. In the late 1880’s, the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad (SA &AP Railroad) was expanding its rail system in an effort to serve markets as far south as Corpus Christi, Texas. To do so, the railroad needed a level, cost-effective route. It turned out that Pittsville was the preferred location for the SA&AP Railroad as it happened to be well aligned for the intended expansion area.
In 1890, the same year that Fulshear was laid out, the SA&AP Railroad went into receivership.
Pittsville Said “No”
Monday-morning quarterbacks might too quickly question the reasons that a community might have for rejecting the increased mobility that a railroad would represent today. Regardless of knowing the reasons why, we do know that Pittsville refused the SA&AP Railroad’s offer outright.
There are any number of reasons as to why Pittsville rejected the SA&AP Railroad’s overture. It is said that some local ranchers felt the noise would frighten their cattle. It is also said that some of the landowners simply didn’t want to provide the right of way.
Mr. Ken Stavinoha, Railroad Historian with the Rosenberg Railroad Museum, recalls a quote to the effect of “… the leaders of Pittsville ‘saw no future for a town on a railroad’.” He says “This would indicate that Pittsville did not consider itself as being served by a railroad and wanted nothing to do with one.”
At the rejection of their offer, the SA&AP Railroad, remained intent on completing its objective and had no choice but to look elsewhere for willing landowners. As it turned out, they found one just over three miles to the south of Pittsville.
Vision Meets Action
Churchill Fulshear Sr., was an “Old Three-Hundred” settler that had received a land grant from Mexico in 1824. He was the plantation owner and family patriarch that originally settled the area to the south of what would become Pittsville. By the 1880’s, his son, Churchill Jr. had inherited his father’s land, holdings, and fortune. More importantly, by all appearances, he had also acquired and refined his father’s business acumen.
There is no record of the conversations and negotiations that Churchill Jr. must have had in order to facilitate the railroad right-of-way and the transaction that made the railroad passing through his property a reality. Neither is there a record of Churchill Jr.’s plans, visions, or even his mindset related to advancing his own financial agenda. History does, however, record what happened in 1888 after Pittsville rebuffed the SA&AP Railroad’s offer. Churchill Fulshear was ultimately asked to provide the right-of-way for the new railroad.
Fulshear Said “Yes”
In 1888, Churchill Fulshear Jr. decided to embrace the SA&AP Railroad by providing the railroad right-of-way through his property. This decision, combined with the economic coup that it would ultimately represent, must have set him apart from other area landowners. Having a railroad on property that he controlled would put his holdings on the doorstep of an ever expanding marketplace.
The railroad could certainly put him in the position of leading the areas growth. So it was in 1890 that the railroad platted the town of Fulshear. Its footprint is forever memorialized in Fulshear’s downtown streets that are still in place today.
The new SA&AP depot in that was built in Fulshear was slightly more than three miles from Pittsville.
Although the SA&AP Railroad is no more, its impact reverberates even now, 124 years after Fulshear’s founding in 1890, in the Fulshear area’s mobility planning. FM 1093, for example, parallels the original SA &AP Railroad rail right-of-way. The presence of FM 1093 has led the way for many thousands of acres of development in and around Fulshear and to tens of thousands of acres to be developed in the growing cities beyond.
The corridor created by the railroad in 1888 has made a way for the improved mobility that has been provided by the Westpark Toll road. The investment made in this now-indispensable mobility corridor has been singly-responsible for increasing access to business, employment and shopping centers of Houston’s vibrant Galleria and Downtown areas.
The SA&AP Railroad certainly did set the stage for the growth that the City of Fulshear now enjoys and is, in many ways, still making plans to accommodate.
As a visionary, Churchill Jr. showed vision and judgment in his approach to doing business and improving access to the area. As a farmer, rancher, and landowner, Churchill, Jr. undoubtedly saw that a new railroad traversing the area would bring vast improvement to how he got products to market and how business was done in the area. He clearly wanted to be a part of it.
The Texas Western’s Dashed Glimmer of Hope
Even though the SA&AP Railroad had come through Fulshear in 1890, and clearly claimed its share of the railway cargo and passenger transportation market along its path, some might think that the Texas Western Railway would still be able to compete on some level. After all, farmers and ranchers in the areas in and around Sealy, Pattison, and Brookshire as well as those in Pittsville and Katy still had to get products to and from markets in Houston. Considering that the Texas Western Railway was still the best option to serve these areas due to the proximity of the railway, it is reasonable to believe that there must have been plenty of business for the Texas Western Railway, right?
Enter the MK&T Railroad
By 1893, the well-financed Missouri-Kansas & Texas railroad (MK&T) had out-maneuvered the Texas Western Railway Company by entering Houston market area from Waco and into Sealy, Texas. By the time the MK&T railroad steamrolled into the area, their rail line was already providing rail service to San Antonio and passed through many of the towns to the west that the Texas Western Railway Company had previously planned to someday serve.
It must have been a dark day for the Texas Western Railway Company, when the MK&T railroad crossed westward from Sealy and continued laying their tracks. In a move that would sap what remained of the Texas Western railway’s business, the MK&T would establish Brookshire and then Katy as new railroad towns, complete with their own depots along a much better railroad.
The new MK&T depot in that was built in Brookshire was just over four miles from Pittsville.
As fate would have it, the MK&T’s tracks intersected with the Texas Western’s tracks between Brookshire and Katy, in a location between what are now Woods and Igloo Roads near HWY 90. This symbolic severing of the rails, would end all hope of the Texas Western Railway recovering its former glory.
As often happens when technologies collide, there was no way to overcome the fact that the two intersecting railways were simply not compatible with one another. The Texas Western Railway was, from its inception, a narrow gauge railway. By definition, the distance between its rails utilized a 3’ 0” “narrow gauge” standard.
The MK&T, on the other hand, was created to be a “standard gauge” railroad. Its design utilized a wider track width of 4’ 8-1/2”. Being designed as a standard gauge railroad, the MK&T’s cars were considered more stable and potentially safer. Due to the improved rail standard, the MK&T’s trains had greater capacity and could achieve greater speeds. In short, the MK&T was a better railroad than the soon-to-be outdated Texas Western Railway.
The differences between the gauges of their tracks meant that the two railway companies could in no way share the tracks. This unavoidable incompatibility certainly sealed The Texas Western Railway Company’s fate as there was no way to share the MK&T’s tracks.
Though it was once considered a useful and cost-effective regional railroad, it took just sixteen years for the vision of the Texas Western Narrow Gauge Railway to be eclipsed and confounded by the opportunities and progress presented by the superior railroad technology.
Texas Western Railway Fades into History
In 1895, five years after the SA &AP Railroad came through the new “Fulshear” area, and just two years after the MK&T rolled into the new “Brookshire” area, the Texas Western Railway was sold. It ceased operations in 1896.
In 1899, twenty-nine years after it was originally promoted, and twenty-two years after it began serving the village of Pittsville, the once proud, state-of-the-art
Texas Western Railway was abandoned altogether. By mid-summer of 1900, the tracks had been removed.
For its part, the village of Pittsville struggled to remain viable throughout the coming years. It is reported that after the SA&AP Railroad came through Fulshear that many Pittsville residents and business owners simply shifted their interests and their livelihoods to the newly-minted Fulshear community in order to take advantage of the improved railroad and the expanding market it brought with it. The eventual exodus sealed the fate of the once-thriving village, relegating Pittsville to be recorded as a footnote to our area’s future and placing it on the path of relative obscurity.
Consequence of a Crossroad Moment
It is reasonable to see how the SA&AP Railroad serving Fulshear, with its increased regional reach, higher speed, and better freight and passenger service, instantly became a better option for farmers and ranchers in the area than was the Texas Western Railway. As well, most would also agree that the MK&T entering the market just three years later, being well financed, spanning three states, and being equally close to Pittsville as was the Texas Western Railway, further sealed the community’s fate.
The issue that truly doomed Pittsville may have simply been the village’s own failure to choose well at a crucial “crossroad” moment. It might have been Pittsville’s own decision to pass up their best opportunity to adapt to the changes brought on by invention, innovation and technology that brought their community to ruin. A different decision would almost certainly have resulted in a different outcome. Had Pittsville embraced the SA&AP Railroad, we might be heralding the growth of Pittsville today instead of Fulshear’s bright future.
It was by the residents’ own choice, not by chance, that Pittsville failed to embrace the change that improvements in technology always bring. As Pittsville’s future ultimately passed it by, it was a lack of vision that brought the once hopeful and confident village to its ultimate decline and downfall.
Pittsville’s last residents are said to have simply migrated away from Pittsville to Fulshear and to Brookshire over the next fifty years. History records that the last residents left Pittsville in the late 1940’s, leaving little to be recovered.
A Lesson Learned?
Wisdom teaches that a lesson is best learned only once. By comparing the choices and decisions that Pittsville and Fulshear each made, we see that the future rewards those who remain willing to pursue it. It is by being willing to support good vision with commensurate investment that a community is able to keep pace with the opportunities and challenges that invention, innovation, and technology will always bring.
Anticipating the Future
Today, Fulshear is growing, in part, due to the early vision and subsequent decisions of the City’s Founder, Churchill Fulshear, Jr. He deserves credit for the foundation on which Fulshear’s future is being built. Since the time of Churchill Fulshear, Jr., there have been many decisions made that have shaped the current City of Fulshear. Be assured, that in the coming years, there will be many more decisions to be made. Many of those future decisions will have equally significant potential outcomes.
In his ongoing commitment to work with others in order to shape the city’s future, Fulshear Mayor Tommy Kuykendall is continuing the tradition of visionary leadership. Along with the Fulshear
City Council and the entire municipal staff at Fulshear City Hall, Tommy and his team are dedicated to capturing, communicating, and fostering the vision that Churchill Fulshear Sr. set into motion when he received his original land grant from Mexico over 190 years ago. Through such dedicated planning, Fulshear’s leaders will surely continue to provide for the growth that is now occurring in Fulshear.
Special Thanks to Jim Vollmar and Ken E. Stavinoha, Directors of the Rosenberg Railroad Museum, for their invaluable assistance and direction that provided important factual elements, that significantly improved the of accuracy and historical context of this article. Thanks also to Lisa Rickert, Program Director for the Rosenberg Railroad Museum, Chris Craven, and Glenn Fair for their assistance and railroad insight.
For a list of reference materials used for this article, please visit www.fulshear.com/fm-01-01
- Churchill Fulshear, Jr. died in 1892, just two years after the town bearing his family name was founded.
- In 1892, the same year that Churchill Fulshear, JR, died, the SA&AP came out of receivership at which time the Southern Pacific Railroad gained effective control of the SA&AP.
- In 1992, one-hundred years after the death of Churchill Fulshear, Houston METRO acquired the SA &AP Railroad right of way, but allowed railroad operations to continue.
- In 1996, one-hundred years after the Texas Western Railway ceased operations, the Southern Pacific merged with the Union Pacific Railroad.
- The Union Pacific continued to operate the rail line until 1999 – one hundred years after the Texas Western Railway was abandoned.
- After the Union Pacific ceased operations, METRO removed the tracks and sold most of the gravel ballast.
- Fort Bend County is currently finalizing plans to acquire the railroad right-of-way from Houston METRO all the way to Eagle Lake.
- After Fort Bend County takes ownership of the SA&AP Railroad right of way, Houston METRO will retain the right to someday utilize the corridor for future commuter rail.