When the Bartlett Tribune was published on September 3, 1909, the paper carried the following headlines: “Bartlett-Florence Railroad Now a Reality – Contract Let Yesterday – Construction Train and Grading Outfit Now Enroute – Work to Begin at Once.” Yesterday, the Bartlett-Florence Railway Company held their first general meeting at their office in Bartlett and elected the following officers: G. W. Hubbard, President, W. J. McDaniel, Vice-President and General Manager, H. W. Pech, Second Vice-President, and General Attorney, C. C. Bailey, Treasurer, and John C. Collins, Secretary and Auditor.
Within a week, the work commenced on the railroad. Just before the dirt was broken, Hon. J. V. Morris made an appropriate address. Next, the plow held by Miss Grant of Lincoln, a stenographer for the railway company, was started by Col. W. J. Cagle and Dr. T. B. Benson of this city, and Mr. John McDowell of Florence. The headquarters for the railway was established in the Hempel residence purchased from W. E. Cox.
In 1911, the railroad was sold by the original owners to a group of Bartlett men, including J. W. Jackson, J. L. Bailey, J. D. Jackson, W. W. Walton, C. C. Bailey, and H. A. Breihan. After they took over the railroad, the line was completed to Florence, Texas.
When the Bartlett Tribune was published on Jan. 5, 1912, the headlines were as follows: “Bartlett-Western Into Florence – Announcement of the Completion of the B-W into Florence.” The first train service on this road was fully celebrated on Wednesday, December 27, 1911, by the citizens of Florence, the terminus of the road, 22 miles west of Bartlett. A train carrying some 250 to 300 people left Bartlett on the morning of the eventful day, the excursion rate being $1 for the round trip. President J. W. Jackson, Vice President J. L. Bailey, and other officials of the new road were present, and the vast crowd was looked after by those accommodating gentlemen and employees of the road, Messrs. T. J. Fitzgerald and J. S. Rogers. Speakers of the day were Hon. J. A. Brewster of Florence, Hon. J. V. Morris of Bartlett, and Hon. J. B. Salyer of Jonah.
In May of 1916, the Bartlett owners of the railroad sold out to Col. Thomas Cronin of Palestine, Texas, a pioneer in railroad building. The Cronin family, including Col. Cronin, his daughters, Miss Marie Cronin and Mrs. Ida Branagan, and her husband, William Branagan, and Thomas Wolf, a nephew of the Colonel, moved to Bartlett.
Col. Thomas Cronin was born in Ballyheige, Ireland, on May 3, 1843, the son of Philip and Julia Stiles Cronin. He came to the United States when he was six years old. He died in Bartlett, Texas, on August 16, 1926. His wife, Margaret Donahue Cronin, daughter of Daniel Donahue and Ellen Sullivan Donahue, was born in Ballyheige, Ireland, on June 1, 1845, and died in Houston, Texas, on December 11, 1894. Col. and Mrs. Cronin were entombed in the Cronin Family Mausoleum in the Holy Cross Cemetery, Houston, Texas.
*Mrs. Ida Cronin Branagan, the daughter of Col. Thomas and Margaret Donahue Cronin, was the Treasurer of the Bartlett Western Railway System. She was born and reared in Palestine, Texas. She was prominent in Catholic women’s work there, president of the Music Club, and organized the Palestine Public Library. She studied music in Paris, France. She died in Bartlett, Texas, on May 16, 1926.
*William Branagan was a resident of Bartlett for thirty-five years. He was born in Iowa in 1867. He came to Texas and settled in Palestine, where he entered the grocery business. Here, he was married to Miss Ida Cronin on June 11, 1889. They moved to Bartlett when the Bartlett Western Railway was purchased by Col. Thomas Cronin, the father of Mrs. Branagan. He served as General Manager of the railway for Col. Cronin and later for Miss Marie Cronin until the line was discontinued in 1936. Mr. Branagan died on June 29, 1951, at the age of 84.
*Miss Marie Cronin, see Section on Bartlett Artists and First Ladies of Bartlett. Miss Cronin died on July 24, 1951.
*Thomas (Mister Tom) Wolfe was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1885, the son of Morris and Mary Donahue Wolfe. In his early life, he taught school and later entered the civil service. He was a railway mail clerk for twenty-five years until an accident forced his retirement. He came to Bartlett to make his home with his uncle, Col. Thomas Cronin, and his cousins, Mrs. William Branagan and Miss Marie Cronin. Mister Tom died in Bartlett on June 8, 1948, at the age of 63.
They are all entombed in the Cronin Family Mausoleum, which is located in the Holy Cross Cemetery, Houston, Texas.
Holy Cross Cemetery, 3502 North Main Street, Houston, Texas: At the entrance to the cemetery, take the first road to the right up to the first mausoleum, which belongs to the Cronin family.
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BARTLETT TEXAS — What the old Bartlett Western Railroad lacked in revenue, it more than made up for in local color, history, and folklore.
History texts note that the Bartlett Western was popularly called the Four Gospels Railroad, but locals sometimes had more derisive names. They called it the Bullfrog Line because trains jumped the tracks so often. The initials BW were said to stand for Better Walk.
The kinder and gentler Four Gospels appellation came from Ida Cronin Branagan, oldest daughter of owner Thomas Cronin; she named the line’s four flag stations St. Matthew (Schwertner,) St. Mark (Jarrell,) St. Luke (Atkinson community,) and St. John (Armstrong community.)
Passengers departing at any of these stops were invited to read a framed copy of select verses from a corresponding gospel.
The Four Gospels are just as well known for its last president, Thomas Cronin’s talented and flamboyant daughter, Marie. She came to Bartlett in 1916 when Thomas Cronin purchased the railroad.
Marie breezed into Bartlett, a parade of one. With her came an international reputation as a portrait and expressionist painter along with the latest Paris fashions, a well-stocked makeup kit, and a certain, you know, attitude.
“She always dressed like she was going to see the queen,” one resident is quoted as saying in Murry Hammond’s excellent history of the short-lived Bartlett Western. His history was published in a 1997 edition of “Journal of Texas Shortline Railroads.”
Thomas Cronin died of cancer in August of 1927. Her sister Ida had died a year previous from, ironically, injuries she sustained getting off a train.
That left the struggling railroad in the soft, artistic hands of Marie Cronin, who never, even after decades in Bartlett, dressed the part of a typical railroad president.
“Miss Cronin had a very dramatic bearing,” Bell County historian E.A. Limmer says. “She dressed differently than most people in Bartlett. She never lost that aristocratic air.”
She was, by all accounts and despite appearances, an industrious and determined president. By sheer determination, she kept the railroad running long after less resilient executives would have thrown in the towel.
Her niece, Virginia Cronin Lawson, said her Aunt Marie was somewhat vain and loved the idea of being a woman president.
“For that reason, more than anything, she did what was necessary to stave off abandonment,” Mrs. Lawson said. Marie’s nephew, Ed Cronin, told Hammond that Marie was what today would be called a “Type A Personality.”
“There was a certain dynamism in her,” he said. “She wasn’t bothered by being a woman; she didn’t have any hesitancy about taking the reins. She had a strong voice, and when she spoke, she dominated the room.”
According to the Handbook of Texas, the BW in 1912 carried 53,750 tons of cotton to market. In 1916, the company earned $3,817 in passenger revenue and $30,327 in freight revenue.
The good times would not last. Torrential rains from 1920-22 continually washed out bridges and trestles. Passengers who continued to brave the line were sometimes pressed into service to help push the train up the grade from Bartlett to Jarrell.
“Better walk,” they said, “unless you want to push the train up a hill.”
Dire circumstance continued unabated. The price of cotton dropped to 45 cents a bale from $1.59. The railroad’s office burned in 1936, destroying most of the railroad’s records.
After Marie Cronin sold the railroad and made one last trip to Pairs, her eyesight began to fail, eventually to the point where she could no longer paint. She sold the rails and managed to consolidate enough money to live out the rest of her days, not necessarily in the manner to which she was accustomed but not in poverty. She died in Bartlett on June 29, 1951.
Marie Cronin’s legacy includes more than a failed railroad. She left a handful of paintings, including two that hang in the state capital in Austin.
“She will likely not be forgotten for her lovable character and unique place in history,” Hammond wrote.
“She was, very simply, a great lady and ahead of her time.”