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Riding the Rails across Texas


This lesson plan was written for grades 3–5.


Students will:


Materials needed are:

Note: Those without classroom Internet access may use the poster of the 1891 Fort Worth view to complete portions of this lesson. The poster is available through the Amon Carter Museum’s Teaching Resource Center.


1. Begin by having students brainstorm answers to the following questions: What are the benefits of the railroad coming to a city? What are the drawbacks? (Benefits: businesses could now ship goods to other parts of the country, residents could travel and new immigrants could arrive in Texas, goods could be brought in from other places, and cities could grow and new businesses develop. Drawbacks: railroads sometimes charged high prices for shipping goods, they generated noise, and hot ash and coal from the engines sometimes burned people.) To reinforce the economic impact of the railroads, have students read the selection of articles from December 1871 issues of the Austin American Statesman.

2. Explain that the railroad’s impact on nineteenth-century Texas cities can be seen in bird’s-eye views. (For an explanation of bird’s-eye views, click here.) Show students several bird’s-eye views and have them locate railroad tracks, depots, and trains. Looking at each view, have students answer the following questions:

(The following views provide a diverse range of railroad imagery: Abilene 1883, Austin 1887, Denison 1886, Fort Worth 1876, Houston 1873, Seymour 1890, and Waco 1886.)

3. Students can discover the excitement of Austin citizens as the railroad first arrived in their city on December 28, 1871, by reading the article “Arrival of the Cars” from the Austin American Statesman. Use the following questions to help students analyze the article:

Students can locate the railroad in the Austin 1873 view, which was created just two years after the railroad’s arrival.

4. Tell students that just as railroads brought significant advantages to Texas towns, they also impacted American culture. Songs and books featuring railroads first became popular during the second half of the nineteenth century and continue to be produced today. Click on the following links for examples of railroad-themed music and videos from The Library of Congress’ American Memory Project.

5. Have students select one city that they looked at during step two and write a newspaper article describing the importance of the railroad to that city. Have them include quotes from different people affected by the railroad, such as farmers, immigrants, and shopkeepers.

TEKS Connections

Social Studies

Language Arts

This lesson plan was created by the Education Department of the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, to accompany the Texas Bird’s-Eye Views Web site and was made possible by a generous grant from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Foundation representing BNSF Railway Company.