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 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 State Railroad of Texas.
Palestine Depot Complex
Inaugurated in 1976, both depot complexes were built by the Texas State Parks & Wildlife Department. The attractive Palestine depot represents the Victorian era of architecture that was popularized when steam locomotives first crisscrossed the American landscape over a century ago.
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, apparel and books round out a medley of merchandise to memorialize the ride.
Hollywood in the Piney Woods
The Rusk 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’s consist. During select evenings, when the campground is operable, movies filmed 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.
Rusk Depot Complex
Rusk is where the Texas State Railroad began. This beautiful rock edifice is a compliment to the railroad route built by prisoners in 1883 to transport timber and ore from the penitentiary. In 1972, the area was designated a state park to operate tourist excursions between the two cities.
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.
Interesting Side Story –
In the United States, a railway post office, commonly abbreviated RPO, was a railcar 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.