Friday, February 25, 2011

Scouting The Lost Highway To Old Stoney & Decatur

On a recent weekend I packed up and headed north To Denton under gray skies to scout the remnants of old State Highway 24 out to Decatur.  This came about as the result of some previous conversations with my friend and historian M.C. Toyer who has recently documented the route of old SH 24 from Denton to McKinney in the time before Lake Dallas was built. The result of my western trip is documented below on a clip from my 1920 USDA Soil Survey map which actually pre-dates the earliest SH 24 route but does show the earliest roads in the vicinity.

Click to enlarge map

SH 24 was one of the earliest designated state highways.  Initially, SH 24 generally followed existing roads including most of the sharp curves. Very few sections were paved except in larger cities.  Later, toward the end of the 1920's, the right of way between Decatur & Denton was moved north about a mile onto a new grade. The section from  Decatur to Denton became US 380 in 1971.

Click to enlarge map

Jim Christal Road:
The west Oak Street exit off  IH 35 leads to Jim Christal Road which even on today's satellite map is marked as Old SH 24.  About two miles down the road at a little jog I found an old concrete culvert bridge off to the south where it had been abandoned by a curve straightening project many years ago.

Click to enlarge picture
Another two miles west across the prairie was a bridge crossing Hickory Creek. The bridge and rails were considerable heavier than you would find on a simple county road.  This sturdy bridge probably dates to the 1930's.

Click to enlarge picture

The highway underpass beneath the BNSF railroad which is paralleled by FM 156 came into view within the next few miles. The location is a few miles south of Krum. There's a scabby little creek and poorly maintained bridge just before the structure.

Click to enlarge picture
The raised right-of-way was built by the Gulf Coast & Santa Fe, the predecessor to the AT&SF and BNSF and was completed between Fort Worth and Gainesville in 1887. This railroad was constructed to a high standard with beautifully designed bridges using cut stone abutments as well as unusual and expensive underpass designs.

The underpass is about 10 feet wide by 10 feet high which soon would have caused a problem for large vehicles on old SH 24 and may be one of the reasons that the highway was shifted north to a better location.

And just as I was getting ready to get a closer look at the brickwork, along comes this freight train making probably 60 miles an hour right over the top of me!  The underpass is solid.  Even with the train speeding overhead, inside there is much less noise and no vibration to speak of.

Click to enlarge picture
In spite of the encrusted graffiti, the construction of this underpass is very impressive, especially considering that most railroads of the era, and even today use nothing more than wooden bents formed into a trestle with a simple wood deck.  Instead the pictures suggest that a reinforced concrete base was poured on each side of the road with a notch at the top to provide a base for the brick vault.  Then I assume a curved form was constructed for the vault and four courses of edge-laid brick were built up and allowed to set.  There is no keystone of any kind. It appears that the railroad construction engineers then filled the rest of the void up to the ballast line with reinforced concrete using forms. 

This is not a unique structure.  A trip up FM 156 toward Krum will reveal a number of these remarkable brick vault culverts and underpasses of all sizes.

Stoney Road:
Crossing under and then turning south on FM-156 for a few hundred yards will bring us to Stoney Road which was also a part of old SH 24.  About three miles down the road I passed what was an unusual crossing over a small wash.  After walking down to the side of the bar ditch it turned out that the entire embankment on both sides of the road was sheet iron boiler plate of some kind. That's pretty unusual.

Click to enlarge picture
 As I walked further down the south side of the draw, I found that the culvert opening itself was a large riveted boiler plate tube.  I have never seen anything like this. I wonder it if was built this way or if it might be an old boiler that was adapted to the use?

Click to enlarge picture

Headed west the blacktop turned to a new, very fine concrete highway that continued a little west of the community which was first settled in the 1850's and named for the soil type around it. There were a few interesting buildings.

 The old school seems to be in fair shape..

 A nice rock home with landscaping on the corner..

 The UMC Church, which was holding services..

Click to enlarge picture
And finally, a small herd of Paint horses at Sunday brunch...

The Old Decatur Road:
SH 24 turned north for about a mile and then meandered west a little to reach what is today US-380 on the way to Decatur. A few miles west of town, the old highway dropped down to what is now Old Decatur road which comes into town about a block south of Main Street where it jogs over to cross the railroad. 

El Castile:
This has nothing at all to do with old SH 24, but coming into town the grand old house sits overlooking what was the Waggoner cattle empire.  It was impossible not to take a few shots of the grand old building which is apparently still inhabited and in good shape.

Click to enlarge picture

Some thoughts:  SH 24 in its various phases is just a small and rather unimportant road in the overall picture of Texas highways.  However, its journey through the early countryside does give us some idea about how primitive the early roads were and how much things have changed in the last 100 years or so.

Traveling the back roads also gives us an unfortunate picture of how little many Texas counties really care about their historic landscape. Wise county in particular, even under the brow of the magnificent Waggoner home, has allowed ill kept, trashy mobile home and manufactured shack developments to grow in the country side without regard to sewage or water supplies. Entirely without zoning, these places tend to look like a cluster of festering buffalo chips on the rolling hillsides. 

1 comment:

  1. festering buffalo that!
    i remember we lived in denton when i was tiny.