The Houston and Texas Central Railroad
Depot at Anna
by Bert Wetherill, May 15, 2018
The railroad was the “spark” that drew in the people who ultimately built the town of Anna. James Lafayette Greer, known as Captain Greer, migrated to Collin County in 1867. He purchased a large amount of land including what would later become the site of Anna. He donated land for the Houston & Texas Central Railroad (H&TC) main line, switch tracks, and depot. This donation of land guaranteed the route of the railroad through the future town of Anna. When the railroad was first completed through the Anna area there was as yet no town of Anna. There was, however, a flag stop where Anna was later established. A flag stop was a spot along a railroad where a flag or signal could be raised to tell a train crew that passengers or freight was ready to be picked up. It’s not yet known when the railroad sidings at Anna were built. It may have been at the same time the main line was built in 1873, but they were certainly in place when the depot was constructed. By 1883 twenty new residents had moved into the area and Anna was ready for more recognition. The town officially got its name, its first post office, and its first postmaster on May 9, 1883. Anna’s first plat of streets and lots was recorded at the courthouse in McKinney on November 8, 1883
The H&TC depot was completed in early 1885 to a design style used by the H&TC railroad in the 1860’s through the 1880’s at towns along the railroad. The Anna depot still exists, but not in its original location. Most of the agent’s bay window is missing from the Anna depot building, but sufficient evidence exists in the structure to determine the window’s size and location. A model of the depot has been built as part of a diorama depicting a portion of Old Town Anna as it appeared from 1883 to the mid 1940’s. The agent’s bay window in the diorama model is patterned after the one in a photograph of the H&TC depot at Allen, Texas (Fig. 1), and from a sketch of the Anna depot in Chester Howell’s book A Town named Anna (Ref. 1, pg. 27). All other doors and windows in the diorama model are shown based on evidence in the Anna depot structure today. By the 1890’s a different building style was used to build new or replacement depots on the H&TC line (Fig. 2). H&TC depots along the H&TC line, as shown on Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Texas, 1877-1922 (Ref. 3), tended to be 20 to 24 feet wide and with a variety of lengths. The Anna depot is smaller than some others and is 20 feet wide by 32 feet 8 inches long plus a 4 feet x 8 feet 6 inch bay window at the south end of the depot on the east side next to the main line tracks. Fig. 3 is the only photograph currently available that shows the Anna depot in its original location. The photograph shows a portion of the north end of the building and a portion of the platform at that end.
The interior of the Anna depot is divided into three rooms. The south room was the agent’s office and had the bay window on the east side to permit the agent a view up and down the main line tracks. There was a small window in the south wall with a single sash that would slide up and had notches for detents to hold the window at any of several positions. This may have been a ticket window or a window through which the telegraph operator could serve telegram customers. The window may have served both functions. A sign on the northwest corner of the depot notified people that the Western Union Telegraph and Cable Office was located in the depot building (Fig. 3). Several depots along the H&TC route are known to have had Express Offices. Anna may have had one also. Research is continuing.
The depot’s central room has a pedestrian door on both the east and west sides and was likely a passenger waiting room. This room connects to the agent’s office through an opening without a closable door. It connects to the north room through a closable door and with two steps leading up to the freight floor. The north room was the freight room and its floor is about 16 inches above the floors of the central and south rooms. This difference in height raised the level of the freight room floor and loading docks on the west and north sides of the depot to better match the floor height of freight cars on the siding. The freight room has two large sliding doors. The east door opened directly above ground level for loading and unloading a baggage or freight cart, and the west door opened onto a freight platform along the siding. There were platforms completely around the depot except at the east freight door. Steps on the west platform gave access to the higher platform at the west freight door. How wide these platforms actually were is not currently known. The platform sizes used in the diorama are based on sizes of some other H&TC depot platforms in other towns along the H&TC line as shown on the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Texas, 1877-1922 (Ref. 3). A ramp for moving heavy loads to and from ground level led up to the north freight platform.
After WWII, expansion of the highway system and increased use of private passenger cars, and trucks to haul freight was a serious blow to railroad revenues. Depot use was reduced after the war and activity ceased by the mid 1950’s. The depot was acquired by Lewis ‘Nip’ Roberts in the early 1960’s and moved from its original location to his property on west Highway 455 for use as a hay barn. Roberts’ property was later sold and the depot-barn was to be razed. Through the efforts of several history-minded Anna residents, the depot building was donated to the Anna Area Historical Preservation Society in 2006 and moved to a temporary storage site in 2007. The building has been moved to its permanent location in Sherley Park and restoration can begin. The restored Anna depot will serve as a museum and education facility.
Note: all references to direction/orientation of the depot in this work are now reversed as the depot has been moved to a location across the railroad tracks from its original location. It has been turned 180 degrees so that the agent’s bay window now faces west toward the tracks, not east as at its original location.
Figures 4, 6, 8, and 10 that follow, show the depot as it currently exists (2018). Each quarter view photograph was taken with the building in its original orientation, but not at its original location. The equivalent diorama photographs are of a model built to what is believed to be a fair representation of the depot’s original appearance. The diorama will become part of the educational displays in the restored depot.
H&TC Depot, Allen, Texas circa 1872
Photo Courtesy of Allen, Texas Chamber of Commerce
H&TC Depot Dallas, Texas circa 1900
Restored and relocated to the Museum of American Railroad, Frisco, Texas
North Side of the H&TC Depot Anna, Texas circa 1945
M. C. Powell, Jr. (1918-1988) standing in foreground
Photo courtesy of Brenda Hammack
Anna H&TC Depot, Southwest View
Plywood covers the location of the Agent’s Bay Window
Diorama Anna H&TC Depot, Southwest View
Anna H&TC Depot, Northwest View
Plywood covers the location of the Agent’s Bay Window
Diorama Anna H&TC Depot, Northwest View
Anna H&TC Depot, Northeast View
Note the “step up” from the lower to the higher platform
Diorama Anna H&TC Depot, Northeast View
Anna H&TC Depot, Southeast View
Diorama Anna H&TC Depot, Southeast View
Ref. 1, A Town Named Anna, Chester A. Howell, October 1991, revised February and October 1993, updated December 2008.
Ref. 2, The Handbook of Texas Online, s.v.”,” http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/HH/eqh9.html (accessed August 13, 2010).
Ref. 3, Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas Libraries, University of Texas at Austin, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Texas, 1877-1922, http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/sanborn/texas.html