Texas State Railroad
Rusk and Palestine Depots
Whether departing from Palestine or Rusk, you will enjoy the historic surroundings and learn about the communities that built the railroad. Both depot locations offer the opportunity to learn about the history of railroading in east Texas through story boards and displays, and to purchase unique memorabilia and gifts not available anywhere except at Texas State Railroad.
The depots are where the fun starts.
In the glory days of the iron horse, the train station was the bustling hub of every small town across America. Those days may have passed, but Texas State Railroad is doing its part to ensure that they are not forgotten.
An essential part of the Texas State Railroad journey is spending time at the Rusk and Palestine depot complexes prior to departure, at the turn-around and after the ride. Built during the middle of the last century, these edifices are every bit a part of the rail experience as the ride itself. Peppering the depot landscape are eye-catching storyboards, overflowing with details about the Texas State Railroad encounter, surrounding communities, pioneer spirit and railroad lore which set the stage for a memorable rail adventure. Each depot complex has its own identity and requires time spent to capture the essence of why this Piney Woods Route has been designated the Official Railroad of Texas.
Palestine Depot Complex
Whistle Stop Café
Daily specials associated with each season highlight the varied menu showcasing local favorites. Light eaters or those with heartier appetites will find an entrée that will whet a whistle and pair nicely with a local craft brew, wine or nonalcoholic beverage.
Shopping at Roundhouse 1909 has never been more pleasurable. The quality selection of home décor, clothing, hats, accessories and souvenirs representing the Railroad, Palestine and East Texas is irresistible. Jewelry, sculpture, children’s toys and apparel, and books round out a medley of merchandise to memorialize the ride.
Museum (Coming Soon)
The history and memorabilia associated with Texas State Railroad and its powerful iron horses span well over a century. One of the highlights of the Palestine depot complex will be the rolling stock exhibition hall which will house some of the big boys of the steam era. Texas & Pacific engine 610, which is the sole surviving example of a super-power steam locomotive built in 1927; Texas & Pacific ‘Ten Wheeler” 316, the older engine in our collection. Built in 1901, 316 represents a turn-of-the-century pinnacle in land transportation technology. The sheer size of these behemoths is breathtaking and makes one marvel at the complexity… and simplicity …of these powerful Goliaths of the rails.
You will be able to walk inside a vintage 1920s wooden caboose from the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific Railroad to see where the railroad conductor or “skipper” and his brakemen lived and worked, watching out over the train perched in the Cupola. Also in the museum will be a T&P office car built in 1899, and used by railroad officials as a rolling office, from which they managed and inspected the far flung network of steel ribbon.
Rusk Depot Complex
Rusk Texas is where Texas State Railroad began. The Victorian architecture of train depots and homes can be seen while journeying on a route built in 1881 to transport hardwood. In 1972, the area was designated a state park to operate tourist excursions between the two cities.
Not only is Roundhouse 1881 an unusual gift store, it’s a shopper’s paradise. Stocked with women’s and men’s apparel, accessories, children’s toys and clothing, books, jewelry, sculpture and memorabilia, there is something for everyone to take home to commemorate a great day on the train.
Mail Car Café
Built inside a 100-year-old Texas & Pacific mail & express car that straddles the rails alongside the depot, the Mail Car Café embraces mouthwatering regional favorites. Entrees, snacks and beverages may be savored in an outdoor setting with plenty of shade and cover. See our full menu here.
Interesting side story –
In the United States, a railway post office, commonly abbreviated RPO, was a railroad car on a normal passenger run with a staff who sorted mail enroute to facilitate speedy delivery. Off limits to passengers, the RPO was staffed by highly-trained postal clerks who were issued Smith & Wesson revolvers to discourage mail theft. From the middle of the 19th century, many American railroads earned substantial revenues through contracts with the U.S. Post Office Department (USPOD). Why was this so important to the railroad? The profitability of the mail business allowed many railroad companies to maintain passenger routes where the financial losses from moving people were more than offset by transporting the mail.
Hollywood in the Piney Woods
Originally installed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the depot’s movie theatre features a short film on the history of the communities, rail line, locomotives and running stock that make up the train consist. During select evenings when the campground is operable, movies filmed on location on the Texas State Railroad are showcased, including The Great Debaters starring Denzel Washington, O Brother, Where Art Thou? with George Clooney and John Goodman, and Rough Riders featuring Tom Berenger and Sam Elliot.