COL. J. W. FORNEY, Became City’s Namesake

ACROSS THE KAUFMAN COUNTY line from Dallas, the city of Forney per­petuates the name of a onetime Pennsylvania newspaper editor and politician. He was a prime factor almost a century ago in altering the destiny of Dallas and other North Texas communities by the construc­tion of pioneer railroads to serve them. This now largely forgotten figure was Col. John W. Forney, who was saluted on his first and only visit to Dallas on June 19, 1872, as “the famed editor of the Philadel­phia Press.” But he was doubly welcomed as “an original corporator and a director” of the then new Texas & Pacific Railway. Already com­pleted westward from Shreveport through Marshall to Longview, this rail line some fourteen months later would—if all went well—become Dallas’s second railroad connection. With its crossing of the assured north-south line of the Houston & Texas Central, the T&P would spark the takeoff of Dallas from frontier village to modern metropolis.

Col. John W. Forney

Col. John W. Forney

Colonel Forney arrived in Dallas as one of a party of eight rail­road officials who were completing a three-day journey on the El Paso stage line from Longview. They had spent the first night at Tyler, the second at Kaufman. Heading the party was Col. Thomas A. Scott, also of Philadelphia, who was then president of the Texas & Pacific as well as the great Pennsylvania Railroad system. Much interest also centered on another member of the party, Gen. G. M. Dodge of Iowa, the re­nowned chief engineer of the Union Pacific, first transcontinental rail line to be opened, who now held the same position with the Texas & Pacific. It was his job to locate the route through Texas to its projected terminus at San Diego, California.

June 19, 1872, was described by Dallas’s pioneer newspaper, the Weekly Herald, as “a marked day on the calendar.” It was so con­sidered by Dallas business and civic leaders, for they knew it was the moment when the deal to get this all-important second rail line for their city would be clinched, or lost.

As Colonel Forney was to report to his own Philadelphia Press some weeks later, the party rode into Dallas to be met by “our friends in waiting” and to be “regaled in the evening by a serenade and a pleasant interchange of compliments.” The scene was the Crutchfield House, the two-story frame building on the west side of the court­house square, then the leading hotel of Dallas.

The city’s “power structure” in 1872 was on hand in full force to greet the party. Chief spokesman was Col. John C. McCoy, then as later the Nestor of the Dallas bar. Flanking him were such leaders as District Judge Nat M. Burford, Gen. John J. Good, and the up-and­coming young banker Capt. W. H. Gaston. Mayor Henry S. Ervay was present to do the honors as ceremonial head of the city. Former Gov. James W. Throckmorton, the biggest political figure of North Texas and an original backer of a southern transcontinental rail­road across his part of the state, came from his home in McKinney to welcome the visitors. He would accompany them on to Fort Worth, the end of the present reconnaissance trip over the proposed route through Texas.

When the music and compliments subsided, rail officials and the civic leaders of Dallas went into a huddle on the serious business of the visit.

“Colonel Scott made his arrangements with the people of Dallas,” Forney reported in his Philadelphia Press some weeks later. “His proposition was accepted by the authorities.” The agreement reached at the Crutchfield House included the voting of $100,000 in city of Dallas bonds as a subsidy, plus the donation of land for a depot and right of way through the city to its western limits on the Trinity River. Captain Gaston announced his gift of land for the depot and right of way through his four hundred acres from the eastern edge of Dallas. The head of the railroad was also told that for the one mile from the depot to the river, the city would grant’right of way on one of its main streets, Burleson Avenue (named for General Edward Burleson of Texas Revolution fame). The city would also throw in a change of the name of Burleson to Pacific Avenue as lagniappe. That the com­mittee headed by Colonel McCoy was fully able to speak for Dallas “authorities” is seen in the fact that Forney could announce in Phila­delphia in August that “their action has since been ratified without a dissenting vote by the people” of Dallas.

Colonel Forney and others in the rail party returned east by train from Dallas by way of Houston, Galveston, and New Orleans. They boarded the H&TC train at the uncompleted bridge of the Trinity seven miles south of Dallas, which was the terminus of rail traffic. By July 16, 1872, the H&TC was able to run its first train into Dallas. The great event was celebrated that day by an enormous outpouring of people from all parts of Dallas and adjoining counties gathered at a barbecue held in a grove near the old fairgrounds (near present Baylor Hospital).

Within a few months construction was started on the T&P between Longview and Dallas. The work was done, though, from Dallas east­ward, so that the thirty-one miles from Dallas to the new town of Terrell was placed in operation first. The new town was named for R. I. Terrell, an old citizen of Kaufman County. It was not until mid­summer of 1873 that work on the gap between Terrell and Longview was completed and accepted from the contractors, and the first through train from Shreveport, Marshall, and Longview reached Dallas on August 15.

Mesquite ( or Mezqite, as it was erroneously billed at times) was the only other town in Dallas County to be served by a station on the T&P in the first year after it’s arrival. Colonel Forney, who died in 1881, may never have heard of the town which would be named in his honor.

Courtesy Dallas Yesterday by Sam H. Acheson.   Other Kaufman County History can be found here.