10.15.2008,6:45 PM
Butterfield Trail: Denison
We packed the bikes after a quick breakfast and stopped to thank the park staff for a warm welcome and pleasant stay. I have to admit, I almost felt as though we were 'family' and I sure do hope to see them again. Soon!!
"Denison started to be a town, and it surely was a tough one. Towns north started as the railroad came along. Several houses were built down in the bottom and a depot and town-site laid off with a man by name of Captain Faulkner selling town lots. There were two saloons, a dance hall, a hotel, and a few dwellings, a turn table for cars, two or three big wells. Both tracks (M. K. & T. and H. & T. C.) ran side by side up to Denison." -from recollections of John Malcolm, ferryman on the Red River (1)

After leaving the park we rode into Denison which did not exist until years after the first stagecoach wheeled into Texas heading for Sherman. Everything about Denison exuded 'railroad.' The townsite was laid out on land bought and prepared for the arrival of the Katy railroad in the early 1870's. It was even named after its vice-president, George Denison. Just like the military forts, entrepreneurs and opportunists built to cater to vices as well as orderly businesses: saloons, gambling joints, prostitution brothels and the ubiquitous tents. (Ironically, tents could be called the first 'architectural' feature of early American architecture.)

By 1886, the town's first post office opened. In addition to the Katy, by the early 1900's seven other railroad connected Denison with points east, west, north and south. Dension rigned as the state's most important railroad town. Even today, railroad tracks still crisscross the town.

I was tossed into the world of 'Coincidence' when I learned that Denison was the home of the noted horticulturalist Thomas Munson, whose brothers were amongst the town's founders. While living in Oregon, I conducting research in fruit plant diseases. Munson was best known throughout the field for his collection and breeding of disease-resistant grapes. Most of today's cultivars can be traced back to his collection of the mid to late 1800's. His work was acknowledged by the French govenment which named him an honorary member of the French Legion and named Cognac, France, a sister city to Denison. Ten years later and I was tossed back into my own past.

Along a street paved in brick stand historical St. Luke's Episcopal Church. Construction began in 1875 with the main portion of the church still standing. Over the many decades the church has expanded and still commands presence on the brick-paved street and stately trees sheltering its sidewalks.

Main Street in Denison shares the charm and quaintness of many other old rural towns in Texas: mix of old, mid and new buildings of brick, stone and concrete, period street lamps, colorful business signs and awnings. Even small gems can be found such as doorways and the rare gargoyle.



A gem of a find near downtown Denison is an old tavern and hotel. Ernst M. Kohl, a German Navy captain, built the first floor to house a grocery store and saloon in 1893. Constructed of timber and stone with wrought iron hardware throughout, the top three floors were added in 1909-11 for Kohl's family residence. Situated right next to a web of railroad tracks, the business catered to railroad travelers and was converted to a hotel in the 1930's as The Traveler's Hotel.

The building has tremendous character, reminiscent of European architecture. The thick oak doors, windows and other details strongly contrast the modern additions. After the hotel closed for business in the 1960's, several new owners have tried to restore the building. 'For Sale' signs were posted on the barricaded doors with notices that it was a private residence. On one wall is a plaque denoting it as a Texas Historical Landmark (1975). I hope that some day the building will be open to visit.


The Butterfield stagecoaches stopped at one of the many springs that flowed in the area before their scheduled station stop in Sherman to the south. One such spring was Sand Spring on the edge of town. The spring no longer flows there, but a small grassy area surrounded by residences and adorned with willow trees evokes images of the area as it might have been back in the mid-1800's.


From Denison we rode south to Sherman, the first station stop and town on the Butterfield Overland Trail through Texas. And to another surprise.

(1) Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume 16, No. 3, September, 1938. COLBERT FERRY ON RED RIVER, CHICKASAW NATION, INDIAN TERRITORY. Recollections of John Malcolm, pioneer ferryman. Recorded by W. B. Morrison

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