Flood of 1869, Railroads, and the Beginning of Elgin
In July 1869, a major flooding event occurred on the Colorado River. In its 2014 Colorado River Flood Guide, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) specifies this Colorado River flood as “…the worst flood on record.” At Austin, the flood crested at 51 feet and resulted in widespread flooding in Bastrop and La Grange (LCRA 2014). Kesselus (2011) describes the flooding extent in Bastrop as “…water spread to a width of five miles in some places. Many people narrowly escaped death, and dozens living in the lowlands required rescue from the rooftops.” At a crest of 65 feet in Bastrop, the river flood caused serious damage, both in town and in rural areas. Publications cited by Kesselus in his flood description include lists of landowners and reported damage; one of the owners specified in the list was “Mr. William Coats, 12 miles North of Bastrop…” which indicates that the floodwaters reached the area of Coats Road/Lower Elgin Road at Wilbarger Creek.
As devastating as the effects of this flood were, one of the most important outcomes was a change in the planned route for a new railroad in the area. Several years before the Civil War, interest developed in creating railroad lines to Austin, but this was largely put on hold during the war. In the years after the war, the interest revived, and railway planning resumed (Kesselus 2011). During the flood of 1869, however, part of the planned railroad route flooded and was subsequently revised.
The revision of the route for the Houston and Texas Railroad would go through what became Elgin; the town was created in 1872 (Elgin, Texas web site). In 1885, another new railroad added a route from Taylor to Elgin to Bastrop. Later that year, the new rail line was acquired by the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas railroad and extended to Houston. From Houston, the railroad provided transportation to Galveston, which was the second-largest port in the US until the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. After 1900, the Port of Houston replaced Galveston as the major port (Wikipedia). For the farmers who could get their crops to market in Elgin, the rail expansion provided a more expedient and less expensive access to a much wider market