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County
Cherokee
Region
Pineywoods
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Parks
Texas State Railroad Texas State Park
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Texas State Railroad Park Information:
In the late 1800s, the Texas Prison System established the East Texas Penitentiary in Rusk, Texas. A foundry was constructed on the prison grounds in 1884 to convert the area's rich iron ore to cast iron using prison labor and charcoal made from native timber. By 1886, it became apparent that transporting the timber and iron ore by horse and wagon was impractical so 5 miles of railroad track was built. The line originated at the prison in Rusk. By 1906, it was extended to the Cotton Belt Railroad track in Rusk, and to the International and Great Northern Railroad track in Palestine. In 1921, the railroad ceased operations, the rolling stock was sold, and the line was offered for lease. Between 1921 and 1960, the Texas & New Orleans Railroad operated the line. When the TPWD took over the line from T.S.E. in 1972, the line was in poor condition. Rusk prison labor was used to clear the overgrowth of brush, replace cross ties, and repair the railroad bridges. TPWD employees traveled around the country in search of vintage cars and steam locomotives. Victorian style depots were built in Rusk and Palestine. The park opened to the public in 1976, transporting passengers the 25 miles between the two stations, and becoming East Texas' most popular tourist attraction. By 2006, the annual costs to maintain and operate the railroad were $1,000,000 above the annual revenue generated by the railroad. In 2007, the legislature passed Senate Bill 1659 allowing for the creation of an operating authority with the power to lease the system to a private operator. The railroad was transferred to the Texas State Railroad Authority and leased for operations by American Heritage Railway. Train depots are in Maydelle, Rusk, and Palestine, Texas.Camping and train ride fees apply. Check out the Texas State Railroad Park Events. The Palestine Depot is located at 789 Park Road 70, Palestine, Texas 75801. The Rusk Depot is located at 535 Park Road 76, Rusk, Texas 75785. 
 
Historic Texas State Railroad, Texas Historical Marker Text, 1889:
“In the late 1880s the Texas Prison System built a short rail line from the state penitentiary facility in north Rusk southward to hardwood timber stands, where charcoal was made for use in firing the prison's iron ore smelting furnaces. The line served as the foundation of the Texas State Railroad, which was organized in 1894 in an effort to make the prison more self-sufficient by providing new markets for prison products. Two Texas governors, James Stephen Hogg and Thomas M. Campbell, both natives of Cherokee County, were instrumental in the railroad's development. Built by prisoners and supervised by the state prison system, the line was completed in 1909 to Palestine (30 mi. w), where it connected with existing routes. Setbacks, including the closing of the furnaces and the prison unit, limited the railroad's success; however, under a board of managers appointed by the Legislature, the line was later leased to the Texas & New Orleans Railroad and the Texas & Southeastern Railroad. In 1972 control was transferred to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission for development as a state park. It now symbolizes the significant role the railroad industry played in Texas history.” The marker is located at the Rusk Depot on U.S. 84, three miles west of downtown Rusk.