'"At the intersection of the town’s two major thoroughfares, Washington Avenue and La Salle Street, keen-eyed visitors to downtown Navasota may notice a colorful logo included on a sign mounted onto the wall of Dr. Donna Canney’s building.
'Train Town USA,' the sign proclaims, juxtaposing images of classic steam and diesel locomotives on either side of the Union Pacific Railroad logo. In 2012, when the company celebrated its 150th anniversary, it began the 'Train-Town' program, and Navasota was one of the first locales in Texas to be so honored. 'The railroad is the main reason Navasota is here,' town mayor Bert Miller told the Houston Chronicle newspaper in a 2012 article entitled, “Navasota: The Town That Trains Built.” Miller is still mayor of the Grimes County community, and the trains still keep passing through his town, as many as 30 times a day.
Adjacent to the Union Pacific tracks which bisect Navasota’s Historic Downtown District — listed on the National Register of Public Places — is the old cotton gin that is the current Navasota residence of Bryan real estate developer Zane Anderson. In restoring the 10th Street building, Anderson refreshed the sign that was painted along the side of the structure facing the railroad tracks.
Once again, the sign proudly proclaims in all caps: 'NAVASOTA COTTON.'
Just five years after Navasota was founded in 1854, the Houston and Central Texas Railway extended a line of track into the fledgling town. An offer was first made to build the line through nearby Washington, the birthplace of Texas, but leaders there declined the opportunity. Soon, Navasota became a bustling boomtown, loading raw — and eventually processed — cotton and its byproducts onto train after train after train. From that point, Washington, despite its historic importance, never stood a chance of competing with its nearby municipal rival.
As for the 'chicken-and-egg' element of this story, cotton came to the Navasota area long before the train. Cotton was introduced to Texas by Spanish missionaries and then embraced by white settlers who, over time, took up the plantation-style business model of the Deep South. Thus, with a perceived need to preserve the slave labor force which drove cotton production on Texas plantations, the Lone Star State rebelled against “Northern aggression' and fought on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
After the war, the influx of vanquished Confederate soldiers searching to resurrect their old agrarian ways in Central Texas, coupled with the presence of newly liberated slaves freed from the area’s existing plantations, triggered an outbreak of violence and lawlessness from which Navasota increasingly suffered for the next several decades. Railroad Street became the hub of much of the town’s infamy and vice.
Today, Railroad Street is the site of public and private redevelopment efforts looking to restore a block-long stretch of historic buildings in the downtown area. Zane Anderson is redeveloping the south end of the block, while in the middle, Houston attorney Steve Scheve and his wife Janice are in the midst of an ambitious four-year restoration of the P.A. Smith Hotel, once known as the 'jewel of Navasota.'
Train Town USA is again a city on the rise, and when The Smith reopens its doors — the Scheves are hoping for a late-summer launch — Navasota’s long familiar railway traffic will be there right outside the hotel’s main entrance to both welcome and bedazzle onlookers.
Pattie Pederson has had a front-row seat for her town’s revival along the Union Pacific line. She owns The Gallery Downtown, an art gallery in Navasota, just a stone’s throw from The Smith, and also serves as a Navasota city councilwoman.
'I am so thankful to all of the people that have given their love, time, money, and trust to restore Navasota’s charm,' Pederson says. 'Our once sleepy little downtown is waking up, and the historic Railroad District is making history again!' "
**Click here to read the full magazine article.
Storyteller Tim Gregg is a former award-winning radio sportscaster and public relations director on the Virginia Slims World Championship women’s tennis series, and a long-time marketing communications consultant. He is the author of 10 books, including RELLIS Recollections and Embracing The Cross, the life story of retired Bryan judge Travis Bryan III. Tim and his wife, Nancy, live in College Station.