Turner, Avery (1851–1933)

By: Mary Ten Eyck Turner

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: July 1, 1995

Avery Turner, surveyor and longtime employee of the Santa Fe Railroad, son of Edward and Lucretia (Newhall) Turner, was born on a farm near Quincy, Illinois, on March 8, 1851. After receiving his early education at Quincy Academy he enrolled at the age of seventeen in Cornell University, where he specialized in civil engineering. His first job, beginning in the summer of 1871, involved the development of railroad bridges and levees around Hannibal, Missouri. He worked for various railroads, including the Erie, and was employed briefly as an appraiser for the Pullman Company. In 1874 Turner went to Colorado to survey the Maxwell land grant and was employed by the federal government as a topographer. His maps of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico impressed A. A. Robinson, chief engineer of the Santa Fe Railroad. Turner began his career with the Santa Fe on May 25, 1875, as a rodman in Granada, Colorado. During the next few years he supervised the construction of the rails to Pueblo and from La Junta to Las Vegas, New Mexico. He was the first man to ride a train into New Mexico over Raton Pass, and he also brought the first passenger train to Santa Fe, in February 1880. In 1881 he was promoted to trainmaster at La Junta and had charge of the line between Pueblo and Dodge City and south to Raton. He married Mary Honeyman Ten Eyck, from New Jersey, at Topeka in 1886. In September 1887 he was appointed assistant superintendent of the Middle Division, about 1,700 miles of road that included the Southern Kansas (Panhandle) Division, under H. R. Nickerson. After Nickerson's resignation in 1890 Turner succeeded him as superintendent; he remained at headquarters in Newton, Kansas, until January 1897, when he was appointed assistant general superintendent at Topeka. In addition, he served as superintendent of the Chicago Division.

Turner was elected vice president and general manager of the Pecos Valley lines in 1902. At that time he was sent to Amarillo to extend the Santa Fe System over the South Plains. He was especially active in sponsoring "Home Seekers' Excursions." Turner left his position in Amarillo only twice, once to serve from 1913 to 1916 as a receiver for the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad and again during World War I to take charge of the importation of Mexican labor at El Paso. In Amarillo, where Turner was known affectionately as Uncle Avery and Mr. Santa Fe, the Turners maintained a house on Third Street. Turner helped organize the Amarillo Chamber of Commerce in 1907 and was a member of the local Episcopal church and Masonic lodge. He and his wife were active in the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society. Turner died at his Amarillo home on April 14, 1933, and was interred in the Llano Mausoleum in Amarillo. He had been with the Santa Fe railroad for fifty-eight years and had seen it develop into a transcontinental system comprising 14,000 miles of track.

James Marshall, Santa Fe: The Railroad That Built an Empire (New York: Random House, 1945). Santa Fe Magazine, June 1933.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Mary Ten Eyck Turner, “Turner, Avery,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 17, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/turner-avery.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 1, 1995