Known as the "Cactus Capital of Texas," Sanderson is an important livestock grazing center and home to the Prickly Pear Pachanga, a gala festival celebrating the arrival of fall.
201 West Downie Street Sanderson, TX 79848
- Annual Station Revenue (2013)
- Annual Station Ridership (2013)
|Parking Lot Ownership||Union Pacific Railroad|
|Platform Ownership||Union Pacific Railroad|
|Track Ownership||Union Pacific Railroad|
|20 Long Term Parking Spaces||Accessible Payphones|
- Sunset Limited
- Texas Eagle
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
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Sanderson is a flag stop, which means that the Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle only pauses to pick-up or discharge riders if they have made a reservation; otherwise, the train continues through town. Passengers wait near the former site of the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railroad (GH&SA) depot.
The landscape around Sanderson is dotted with burned rock mounds called middens, once used as shelters by early American Indians. Near Myers Spring, a popular watering spot, a cliff face contains extensive pictographs including images of a church, deer, a large bird and people dancing and hunting. Archaeologists have found evidence of human habitation dating to prehistoric times, such as arrowheads. Later artifacts include bits of reed matting and pieces of baskets. These lands were also traveled by the Comanche American Indians who would move south from the buffalo hunting lands in what are today Kansas, Oklahoma and north Texas to raid Spanish colonial settlements in northern Mexico.
Originally known as “Strowbridge” or “Strawbridge” when the GH&SA first began surveying and building in the area during the early 1880s, the town was quickly renamed Sanderson in honor of the engineer in charge of construction. Located on one of the few flat stretches of land in the railroad right-of-way between El Paso and San Antonio, the town became a primary candidate for selection as a division point, which would include a depot and roundhouse.
Charley Wilson, a U.S. soldier from nearby Fort Concho, was assigned to protect the railroad surveyors. Early realizing the area’s importance to the railroad, Wilson wisely bought the flatland and therefore the GH&SA had to pay him for the use of his property. He then proceeded to plat his land and sell off lots. As a division point, the town would gain over a dozen railroad related structures, including a crew foreman’s home, engineer’s bunkhouse and a large crews’ bunkhouse.
After the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) acquired an interest in the GH&SA in 1881, its standardized depot designs—easy to replicate and assemble—were introduced in Texas. Sanderson received a SP Common Standard Depot #3 that was constructed in parts in California and then shipped to Texas by rail for on-site assembly.
The Sanderson depot, a wooden clapboard structure lying low to the ground, was constructed in 1882. It featured a two story central tower topped with a hipped, seamed metal roof supported by deep bracketed eaves. The trackside façade had an extensive porch that ran almost the entire length of the building, providing much needed refuge from the Texas summer sun. A 50 foot long addition was added to the west end of the building around 1910 to accommodate an expanded passenger waiting room, ticketing area, baggage facility and offices for the Railway Express Agency and Western Union.
In more isolated locales, it was common for the depot to include a basic apartment for the station master; at Sanderson, it was on the second floor of the tower. The east end of the building contained a lunchroom—the “Beanery”—while the opposite side was dedicated to freight storage. In the days before dining cars became common, it was essential for the train to make a scheduled stop at a depot lunchroom. Passengers got off the train, had a quick but pleasant lunch, and reboarded to continue their journeys. The restaurant also served as a community center where residents socialized over a meal or a cup of coffee. In the early days, the town lacked its own newspaper, but the station’s Western Union telegraph office often posted news clips on a blackboard for all to read.
The Southern Pacific Railroad remained an important force in Sanderson until 1995, when it moved its crew change terminal out of the town; this led to the abandonment of the depot and the other railroad structures. With its extensive railroad heritage quickly deteriorating, local citizens formed the Sanderson Heritage Association (SHA) to advocate for the rehabilitation of the depot and adjoining buildings when it was discovered that they were on Union Pacific’s demolition list due to high maintenance costs (Union Pacific absorbed Southern Pacific).
In 2010, a member of the Sanderson Chamber of Commerce re-initiated discussions with the Union Pacific over the depot’s future. The railroad agreed to donate the building to an appropriate group if it was moved from its original site. A new advocacy group, the Sanderson Depot Association (SDA), was formed to oversee this rehabilitation effort. Over the following two years, the group was unable to raise the needed funds to move the depot, and it was demolished in October 2012. Fragments of the building were saved by the Friends of the Terrell County Memorial Museum and are now included in the museum’s permanent collection, which also includes period clothing, cowboy and ranch implements, tools and pioneer furnishings and archival material relating to the area.
With only 11 or 12 inches of rain per year, agriculture has never been a prominent industry in West Texas, but Sanderson was and is an important center for grazing livestock, including cattle, horses, polo ponies, burros, sheep and Angora goats. The last two are of the greatest importance to the local economy—at times ranchers have shipped over a million pounds of wool and mohair to textile mills across the country. The area’s desert heritage and lifestyle are celebrated each October during the Prickly Pear Pachanga, a gala festival to celebrate fall, the beginning of the hunting season and of course the prickly pear—earning Sanderson the title of “Cactus Capital of Texas.”
Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage service at this facility. Sanderson is served by the tri-weekly Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle (Westbound: Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday; Eastbound: Monday, Thursday, Saturday).