by Mike Cochran
The old Denton-Dallas Interurban, though short-lived, left a mark on our community. Memories are still there of this experiment in mass transit that had the misfortune to come along at the wrong time. One can only speculate as to whether it came too late, or too early but now with the coming of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), and the move to link the suburbs and Dallas via light-weight rail, it seems that the Interurban system was just ahead of its time.
Though the dream of a rail interurban system linking Denton with Dallas and Ft. Worth had been around for a long time, the factors that would cause it to become a reality were more as a result of a back-room deal rather than any sound business decision. In 1917, to secure the Dallas electric power franchise, an agreement was signed, creating Dallas Power and Light and obligating its parent company, General Electric, to build two interurban systems connecting Dallas with two undisclosed points at least thirty miles away. They were required to post a performance bond of $550,000 to insure completion of the projects in a timely manner.
Times were changing and the need for a rail system was gradually being supplanted by the popularity of the automobile. General Electric, "realizing the probable futility of the project, offered to forfeit the $550,000 bond"1 to the City of Dallas but was turned down in 1921. The first of the two thirty-mile sections of Texas Interurban Railway Company line was opened on January 14, 1923, and went from Dallas to Terrell, a small community, twenty-nine miles to the east. A year and a half later, with much local fanfare, the line to Denton was opened.
The Texas Interurban Railway Company used the tracks from the old Katy line up from Dallas to a point on East Sycamore St. in Denton. At that point new tracks were laid connecting the line to the new brick Interurban station house at the corner of Austin and McKinney Streets. There were shelters at twenty-five stops along the thirty-three miles of the Denton-Dallas run.
In its heyday, the Interurban employed six lightweight passenger car and one express car that departed Denton every hour between 5:42 AM and 6:42 PM, with the last run of the day leaving at 10:42 PM. The average speed of the service was 23.8 miles per hour over the entire run but out in the country it got up as high as 28 mph.
According to published material of the day, "Power for the operation is supplied by the Texas Power and Light Company from a newly constructed 60,000 volt high tension line, serving three automatic substations." One square brick substation remains in Denton on Colorado Boulevard at Woodrow Lane next to the old railroad tracks.
Although launched with misgivings about the viability of the venture, the company put on a good face and touted its role in the economic development of North Texas. This was more than a business, they implied, it was a mission. Vice-President and General Manager, Richard Merriweather, summed it up;
"It is the hope of the builders of the Texas Interurban Railway that this line may be the means of bringing the peoples of the area traversed into more intimate contact, to the end that this incomparably rich territory may bud and bloom with renewed vitality and experience a growth and development commensurate with its virgin resources and virile citizenship."
Like many other grand ideas, the old Interurban was the victim of changing times and the great Depression. On Saturday, March 13, 1932, the Dallas Union Trust Company foreclosed on the Texas Interurban Railway Company, and Interurban rail service ceased immediately. Most of the firms property was auctioned off when the line folded.
Though the ill-fated Interurban left in its wake a tremendous debt, it has had a lasting and positive effect on the people that remember it. John Ed Ballentine, a young boy in 1924, still has fond memories of his great ride on Interurban;
"One of the most thrilling events of my boyhood happened in 1924. The electric railway called the Interurban had recently been installed to run on the MKT Railroad to Dallas. My dad and I took our horse and buggy to Denton arriving before daylight. We left our horse and buggy in the stable behind Evers Hardware Store and walked on down to the Interurban depot, which was built on the north side of McKinney Street where the new post office is now. We
boarded that trolley driven car and went to the State Fair in Dallas, watching the sun come up along the way. Dad and I had a fantastic day."
Reminiscences of John Ed Ballentine, manuscript
The cars were transferred to the old Dallas Railway and Terminal Co., and were used to carry visitors to the Texas Centennial in 1936. Some of the cars were still in use on the Dallas trolley system until that system closed in 1956. Today, other than in memory, vestiges of the old Interurban still crop up very few years when lengths of track are uncovered during road work.