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Riding the Rails: A Journey Into Galveston's Quest for Prosperity

Updated 1064 days ago

Galveston’s quest to become an economic powerhouse in the late 1800s was no easy task.

All too often, ships lay in the Galveston harbor, ready to carry cargo to mills abroad. But transporting cotton from field to shore depended on wagons and riverboats, far too slow for modern commerce at the turn of the century.

Some ambitious Galvestonians knew there had to be a better way, so they got together to decide on a new way to reach the state’s interior and beyond. Col. William L. Moody, who made his fortune trading cotton on the island, led the efforts to build a new railroad in 1873.

The Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railroad (G.C.&.S.F.) connected small towns and transported passengers, cattle, lumber, grain and cotton to and from Galveston. The railway later became part of the famous Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe; and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

With the help of the railway, Galveston effectively sealed her reputation as the Queen City of the Gulf. This American success story is being told through “Riding the Rails to Historic Galveston,” a unique tour sponsored by three Galveston Museums:

The Galveston Railroad Museum, 2602 Santa Fe Place – (409) 765-5700
The museum, owned and operated by the Center for Transportation and Commerce, provides interpretive exhibits, events and programs dedicated to preserving railroad history. The nonprofit museum was established with funds from Galveston businesswoman and philanthropist Mary Moody Northen, and was reopened after Hurricane Ike.

The Bryan Museum, 1315 21st St. – (409) 623-7685
The museum houses the largest collection of its kind in the world with 70,000 items, spanning 12,000 years. There are treasures ranging from ancient Native American cultural artifacts to 21st century pieces. By experiencing the relics and adornments from the period when the railroad was king, you will learn about this historically important stage in Texas and U.S. history.

The Moody Mansion, 2618 Broadway - (409) 762-7668
The Moody family has celebrated more than 80 Christmases in the historic home, which is now offering audio tours narrated by the remaining descendants of the family. An audio actress portrays Mary Moody Northen, the daughter of W.L. Moody, Jr., as she discusses the furnishings and personal effects of the family.

“Riding the Rails” provides interactive tours and the stops of G.C.&.S.F. along the way to northern destinations. The tour shows the significance of the railway to Texas and the nation, and is designed to promote travel to Galveston from Texas cities and towns once linked by the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway Company.

As the G.C.&.S.F. Railway laid tracks north and west to Dallas, it established fuel and water stops along the way. Those small stops became communities, and now dozens of Texas cities bear the names of railroad board members from Galveston, such as Moody, Sealy, Kempner and Rosenberg.

From the perspective of the 21st century, it is difficult to perceive the importance of the G.C.&.S.F. to the communities it served more than a century ago. The impact of the company in growing and serving previously isolated communities west of Galveston was profound, and its impact on the state is still felt today.

For more details about “Riding the Rails,” including how to get tickets,visit

Article written by Robert Stanton - Isle Guy

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