certainly not the most compelling of Texas’ unsolved mysteries,
but it would be interesting to know how some multi-ton chunks of
granite have managed to disappear.
Back in the 1950s, Austin’s Airport Boulevard carried light traffic
to and from the city’s small airport, a wooden facility built in
the 1930s. Railroad tracks paralleled the roadway from Airport’s
intersection with North Lamar Blvd. to East Avenue, a thoroughfare
that later became Interstate 35. And along the railroad right of
way lay several large blocks of pink granite.
For those not
familiar with Austin’s landscape, pink granite is not indigenous
to the area. The closest point it occurs naturally is the wrongly
named town of Marble
Falls, which more accurately should be Granite Falls.
One summer afternoon in the mid-50s, my grandfather took me to a
Dairy Queen then located on Airport. Pointing to one of the big
rocks adjacent to the railroad tracks, he said, “Do you know where
that came from?”
When I replied
that I did not, he related, “It fell from a train hauling granite
to build the Capitol. Reloading it would have been too much trouble,
so the railroad just left it where it lay.”
what he was talking about. Though born a little more than 10 years
after the Capitol’s 1887 dedication, his father (my great-grandfather)
had been one of the construction workers. (A paid employee, I hasten
to add, not one of the convicts also used in building the state
After the decision
had been made to build the capitol of Texas granite rather than
Indiana limestone, the contractor needed some way to get 50,000
tons of donated granite from a quarry at Marble
Falls to Austin.
the mother of capitalism as well as invention, a group of investors
incorporated the Austin and Northwestern Railroad on April 19, 1881.
Not encumbered by today’s environmental clearance processes, lengthy
right of way acquisition and other factors, trains were running
over 60 miles of track from Burnet
to Austin by May 2, 1882,
barely a year after the railroad’s organization.
Oxen teams hauled the granite from near Marble
Falls to the rail head at Burnet,
and from there it went to the Austin and Northwestern depot between
4th and 5th streets, just east of present I-35. The granite then
went by a short line to near the capitol construction site.
A steam engine called the Lone Star pulled 15,700 car loads of granite
to Austin, including the
16,000-pound piece used for the cornerstone laid on March 2, 1885.
One flatcar could only carry two blocks of granite, the load placed
over each set of wheels. The heavy loads put huge pressure on the
40-pound narrow-gauge rails, often causing them to spread. When
that happened, the cars jumped the tracks and the granite spilled
from the train.
ago it occurred to me that the granite chunks once seen along Airport
were gone. I remember seeing them well into the late 1960s, but
I can’t remember having seen them since.
Where did they
That some souvenir hunter took the granite can pretty easily be
ruled out. Granite weighs 168 pounds per cubic foot, compared to
a mere 62 pounds for a cubic foot of water. Obviously, it would
take heavy equipment to remove those rocks.
Clearly, at some point in the 1970s someone using some stout hydraulic
equipment must have removed the granite along Airport Boulevard,
but the files of the Austin History Center are silent on the matter.
Why they removed the stone is also a good question, though it probably
had to do with the value of the granite finally exceeding the cost
of moving it.
Not all the granite that once lined the tracks in Austin has disappeared.
There’s still a medium-sized chunk on the railroad right of way
where 38 ½ Street crosses the track, just east of I-35. Other pieces
of granite can still be seen from State Highway 29 between Burnet
and Austin. And a derailment
in 1886 left 36 giant blocks lying in Brushy Creek, where they remain
Thirty-two miles of the Austin and Northwestern right of way, with
modern, standard-gauge trackage, will carry the city’s first commuter
rail trains starting later this year. If you have occasion to ride
the train, don’t take it for granted if you see chucks of granite
along the way.
© Mike Cox - "Texas Tales"
31, 2008 column
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