Washington County Rail Road

By: Carole E. Christian

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: June 13, 2020

The Washington County Rail Road Company was chartered on February 2, 1856, to construct a railroad from a connection with the Galveston and Red River Railway Company (later Houston and Texas Central Railway Company) to Brenham. Led by brothers Jabez D. and Dewitt C. Giddings, Maj. Joseph C. Wallis, and James Wilkins McDade, the backers of the Washington County included planters and businessmen from Washington County and Houston. Construction of the Washington County began at Hempstead on June 23, 1858, and by April 1859 the first section of slightly over eleven miles of track on both sides of the Brazos River had been completed. James J. Giddings surveyed the route and was superintendent of construction. Stockholders were permitted to pay for their stock by providing hands to work on the line or were issued stock in exchange for right-of-way. The first section of the Washington County cost the company $1,000 per mile in cash to get the roadbed ready for ties and rails; most of the work was paid for with stock. The railroad began operating to the east bank of the Brazos River, 6.6 miles from Hempstead, in February 1860. However, it was another year before the bridge across the river was completed and train service extended to Chappell Hill. Brenham was reached in April 1861, at which time the company had 21.3 miles of main track. At that time the Washington County owned one locomotive, one passenger car, and fourteen freight cars. The company borrowed $66,000 from the Permanent School Fund and received a land grant of 236,160 acres. It remained in operation throughout the Civil War although its roadbed and rolling stock were badly in need of repair by the end of hostilities. William D. Sledge acquired the Washington County on March 17, 1862, in order to secure the payment of a $308,607 debt held by him. On June 2, 1868, Sledge purchased the line at foreclosure and sold it to the Houston and Texas Central on March 11, 1869. The former Washington County was subsequently rehabilitated and extended from Brenham to Austin by 1871. In 1961 and 1962 the Southern Pacific, as successor to the Houston and Texas Central, abandoned most of the track between Hempstead and Brenham, thus closing out over 100 years of operation.

Robert A. Hasskarl, Jr., Brenham, Texas, 1844–1958 (Brenham: Banner-Press, 1958). Mrs. R. E. Pennington, History of Brenham and Washington County (Houston, 1915). Charles S. Potts, Railroad Transportation in Texas (Austin: University of Texas, 1909).

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

Carole E. Christian, “Washington County Rail Road,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/washington-county-rail-road.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 13, 2020