The Rutledge Spur – Rediscovered

I’ve been looking maps and aerial photos of the area near the Marshall Ford / Mansfield Dam because the Lone Star Trail that I’m researching went through the area. In August 2018, I ran across aerial photos of the dam from 1940 on this City of Austin site. Note: You can click on the images of this post to see more detail.

Marshall Ford Dam under construction (1940)
(cropped from COA file 1940_COR-10-022_E.jp2)

In 1940, the dam was being built. It’s construction was the primary catalyst for change in our area; a huge change allowing Austin to grow and become what it is today.

As I used the Google Earth Pro desktop app to align the old aerial photo to the Google map of the modern roads, I came to realize that a second second “road” that paralleled the current RM 620 was not really a road.

Modern Google Earth imagery (top)
Composite 1940 aerial photos (bottom)
COA files 1940_COR-10-022_E, 032_W, 032_E

It was a railroad! The spur line was built by Brown and Root, Inc. of Austin, and McKenzie Construction Co. of San Antonio. They were also the construction contractors for the dam.[1] I think it was called the Rutledge Spur due to it’s origin at Rutledge Station in Rutledge, TX[2], but I’m not entirely sure. I had previously read about that very rail line in Carol MacIntosh Sikes‘ book Hudson Bend and the Birth of Lake Travis that I’d borrowed from the library in Lakeway. However, I did not realize that the rail line extended beyond the dam construction area.

The rail line was temporary. It’s gone now. I’d lived in the Steiner Ranch area for 17 years, and never heard anything definitive of it until 2018 when I read Carol’s book. [Well, there were those few nights after we’d first moved here where I thought I heard an old steam train whistle from that direction, but I digress.] The dam was started in 1937[3], and that is when it was built. It was used to haul rock, steel, and equipment to the site. It’s been gone a long time. Northbound 620 now covers the old bed between Quinlan Park Road and RM 2222.

In the bottom half of the photo above (ca. 1940), you can see the dam under construction on the leftmost side. Note that in 1940, Lake Travis is not filled. In the center bottom (from later 1940), the lake is filled some more, but is not high enough to cover Horseshoe Bend (AKA Sometimes Islands). The railroad line (in orange) follows the Marshall Ford road (in blue) from the right, before deviating into a few turning sections and storage lines. The road does not go over the dam yet, but connects to the current low water crossing bridge. The white and yellow lines are the modern roads. An interesting old dirt road is in purple.

In the top half, you can see that the modern road is straighter, staying south of the current Marshall Ford Road.

Near the Dam Construction Site

Zooming in on the composite

To the right of the dam, in the center and north of Marshall Ford road (blue), you can see the cabins used by the building crews. They are arranged in a semicircle that goes out toward the lake. In the center of that, there is another row of cabins on a road extending north. I’d like to know if anyone can find names, maps, layouts, or other history for those camps.

Just past the hollow to the east on the south side of the Colorado River, you can see the clearing where the current Marshal Ford Foodmart sits. To the west of that was the Marshall Ford Bar. That bar burned down, I’m not sure when. Carol details a little about the bar in her book. I believe there were cabins behind these places as well.

Here’s an even closer look at the rail yard near the dam:

The rail yard near the dam construction side from COA file 1940_COR-10-022_E

The Low Water Crossing road is at the bottom of the picture. The comma shaped area above the rail line will eventually be the huge mound of rocks that are part of the east end of the dam. They probably pulled the tracks out as they started piling up the rocks, because those rocks are now on top of the old railroad beds in that spot.

The grade to the Jollyville Plateau

1940 composite from COA files
1940_COR-16-032_E and RG114-DN0139-COR-9-026_W

The railroad (orange) deviated from Marshall Ford Road (blue) to ascend the hill near current Comanche Trail. It went south around the hill that the Steiner Steakhouse now occupies. Traces of the railroad ballast are still visible to the west of the steakhouse in Google Maps aerials. I’d really like to find some historic ground level pictures of the rails in this area. The 1940 aerial also reveals a dirt road “shortcut” in purple. I wonder if that road had a name.

Four Points (Hickmuntown), TX

Here’s a 1940 close-up at the location of the current RM 620 and RM 2222 intersection:

“Downtoown” Hickmuntown
from COA file RG114-DN0139-COR-9-026_W

Hickmuntown? No, I’d never heard of it either. But, that’s what they used to call the Four Points area[5]. The railroad line is the straight line from top to bottom in the middle. Note that Bull Creek Road (FM 2222) is paved to the Marshall Ford road (RR 620) the paving only continues south from that point. What about the other dirt road just to the east and heading north from here? Well, technically, you are on it if you are entering/exiting current HEB by the gas station. That road went up to the current 620 and Boulder Lane (the south intersection of the two) before crossing over near 4 Paws at Four Points. It might have also been called the Marshall Ford road. Another possibility is the Anderson Mill Cutoff road. Where’s HEB? Well, it won’t be out here for almost 60 years.

Rutledge Spur between RM 2222 and Anderson Mill Road

Rutledge Spur in 1940 (left) and 2018 (right),
from RM 2222 in Four Points (bottom) to Anderson Mill Road (top)

The current RM 620 (in yellow on the right above) covers the old railroad path to the current US 183 (formerly SH 29). The section shown above is between RM 2222 in Four Points and Anderson Mill Road near Cedar Park. The red line on the right highlights that old dirt road that existed in 1940. It paralleled and crossed the railroad. It has to be the short-cut described in an article[4] from the Austin American.

Spur Tie-in to Southern Pacific at Rutledge

1940 aerial of the Rutledge Spur near current SH 183 and RM 620
from COA file 1940_COR-15-034_E

The spur’s tie-in to the Southern Pacific rail line was in Rutledge, Texas (now part of Austin). The tie-in is almost completely visible at the top right of the 1940 aerial above. That spot is near current Lakeline Mall Drive and Lyndhurst Street, and the current Lakeline Station. There is still a street called Rutledge Spur that terminates at the tie-in point. The crossed roads at the lower left are SH 29 and the road that will eventually be RM 620. I am unaware of the historical name of 620 at that time.

Sources

[1] Work Due Upon Rail Track to Marshall Ford, The Austin American (1914-1973), March 16, 1937: 1.

[2] Handbook of Texas Online, Frances W. Wynn, “RUTLEDGE, TX”, accessed April 12, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hvr81.

[3] Work Is Ordered On Dam, The Austin American (1914-1973), Jan 24, 1937: 1.

[4] Weeg, William J., Road Paved To Longest Lake In Playground Area, The Austin American (1914-1973), May 29, 1938: 18.

[5] Handbook of Texas Online, Vivian Elizabeth Smyrl, “FOUR POINTS, TX”, accessed April 12, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hvf90.

Do you know more?

Your comments and corrections are welcome! Please feel free to share what you know here or contact me directly.

4 thoughts on “The Rutledge Spur – Rediscovered

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s