Santa Fe rails Slaton into existence

By Ben Lawson  - bio | email

SLATON, TX (KCBD) - Many towns were founded in an attempt to attract a railroad, but how many towns were founded by the railroad company? Well, Slaton for one.  The Santa Fe Railroad needed the community as a place for trains to stop, and soon, Slaton will celebrate 100 years.

Slaton is synonymous with Santa Fe. Named after O.L. Slaton, who promised to build a bank in the community, Slaton was founded when a representative from the Santa Fe Railroad was sent to the area to establish a town site as a division point to service trains.  "Slaton exists because the Santa Fe Railroad needed a place for the trains to stop," former Slaton Mayor Laura Lynn Wilson said.

The town officially opened in 1911, with a street layout patterned after our nation's capital. "Slaton is laid out in the shape of a wagon wheel, which is exactly what Washington D.C. is," Slaton resident Nancy Norman said.

The town incorporated in 1923, and in its hay-day hosted four daily trains. "Slaton was one of the main railroad centers in west Texas," Norman said.

"Being a division point, we had rail crews come in here. Also we had the rail system where passengers trains were coming through," Slaton Mayor D.W. "Dubbin" Englund said.

Many passengers would remember Slaton for the Harvey House. Staff would take orders before the train arrived, so when riders stepped off in Slaton, they had a gourmet meal hot and ready. "From steaks, to shrimp, to oysters, a cuisine that was unheard of in this part of the world," Englund said.

In the late 1960's Santa Fe began shutting down operations in Slaton, but folks rallied together to save the Harvey House, which now serves as a bed and breakfast. "It's a nice little facility for us," Englund said.

The railroad wasn't the only industry that brought people to Slaton, though. Agriculture came with access to well water.  "When land was selling for 50-cents an acre, back in 1909, 1910 $1 an acre, land was cheap. Our German community came out here and got that foundation going, because land was so inexpensive," Englund said.

Production of cotton and grain kept the Slaton economy going as the railroad moved out. Today, the rail history is not forgotten, but community leaders focus on new ways to keep Slaton steaming toward success.  "A few years ago our downtown square location, we had a number of buildings that were vacant. Presently we only have four," Englund said.

Slaton plans their centennial celebrations for 2011.

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