By Kent Brunette
From The Pages Of The January 28, 2009
Hearne Democrat Newspaper
Two weeks ago, I visited with the members of the Robertson County Historical
Commission at the courthouse in Franklin regarding the Hearne Depot Museum & Visitors
Center. Discussions ranged from building security & exterior lighting to ways to attract visitors
to the county to the major messages planned for the depot’s exhibits & website.
The Hearne Depot is being positioned as a tourism destination as well as a gateway to
other attractions around Hearne & throughout Robertson County. Depot exhibits will not simply
inform visitors about an “important old building in Hearne,” they will also showcase local &
county history & how area railroads & highways have brought people, products, & goods to &
from this area.
The role the railroads played in settling Robertson County will be a primary topic.
The University of Texas at San Antonio’s Institute of Texan Cultures (UTSA’s ITC) tells
the story of the settling of Texas by diverse groups. UTSA’s ITC cultural experience museum on
the old HemisFair grounds is “dedicated to enhancing the understanding of cultural history & its
influence upon the people of Texas.” Their approach to ethnic & cultural issues will be followed
in Hearne Depot exhibits.
Robertson County was settled by people who left their homelands in search of better
lives. Just as our nation has been described as a “melting pot” of cultures, Robertson County is
a reflection of the various cultural & ethnic groups which have called Robertson County home.
When area railroads were completed after the Civil War, the east/west International &
Great Northern & north/south Houston & Texas Central railroads brought new residents &
visitors to Robertson County by the droves. The cities of Calvert (1870), Bremond (1870),
Hearne (1871), & Franklin (1872) were established along their routes.
In 1901, Hearne’s passenger depot was built. Local immigrant transplants, their
descendants, & newcomers alike rode the rails to fight for our country, visit relatives, attend
college, conduct business elsewhere, etc. Many travelers boarded their trains, passed-through,
or changed trains in Hearne.
The convenience of passenger rail travel cannot be under-estimated. Consider the
difference between taking a horse & wagon or buggy on muddy roads to Galveston over several
days versus having a steam-operated locomotive pull a train car which transports you there over
The same railroads opened-up distant & previously unavailable markets to local
agricultural products. They made goods & products from afar more readily available locally.
Two freight depots (one on each railroad) handled this freight in Hearne.
When the Texas Department of Transportation was created in 1917, it started developing
highway routes linking fairly large towns throughout Texas. At the end of the 1940s, TxDOT
began constructing farm to market roads to link smaller communities with major highways.
These local roads (like FM 50) provided a way to get goods to rail centers such as Hearne.
(Earlier, some local entrepreneurs built their own railroad, the Hearne & Brazos Valley, to
accomplish this same purpose.)
Passenger rail travel was in its heyday in the 1940s. By the end of WWII, as highways &
vehicles improved, travel by automobiles became more convenient. Passenger rail travel began
to decline. In later years, many passenger rail routes were discontinued. Their depots were
abandoned or used to assist with freight train operations.
That “important old building in Hearne” is a stunning reminder of days gone by – when
passenger rail travel was king. The depot’s renovation will hopefully make certain that its story
will be told to current & future generations.
While I was visiting with the historical commission in the county courtroom, my aunt
Charlene Bush, former long-time Robertson County Tax Assessor-Collector, was visiting with
some of her courthouse friends in the auditor’s office. At supper afterwards, Charlene & I talked
about the changing look of the county courthouse, which will be one of the attractions on the
Texas Robertson County Trail to be promoted to Hearne Depot visitors.
On Monday morning of this week, Charlene & I were back at the courthouse – this time at
a meeting of the County Commissioners’ Court. The week before, the Robertson County
Historical Commission voted to fund a security system & vintage-looking gooseneck exterior
security lighting at the depot. This week, the Commissioners’ Court considered these items.
Crossroads Reports are archived at www.hearnetexas.info. Click on the “Crossroads
Report” link to view past reports. The views expressed in this report are those of the author & do
not necessarily reflect the views of the City of Hearne, Hearne’s 4A & 4B Sales Tax Boards, or
Hearne Chamber of Commerce.