Riding the Rails across Texas
This lesson plan was written for grades 3–5.
- discover the benefits and drawbacks of railroads;
- use Texas bird’s-eye views to locate railroads in Texas cities;
- understand the railroad’s importance to Texas cities and American life;
- write a newspaper article that explains the railroad’s significance to one Texas city.
Materials needed are:
- classroom Internet access;
- bird’s-eye views of Texas cities projected for the class to see;
- article “Arrival of the Cars” and selection of articles from December 1871 issues of the Austin American Statesman;
- paper and pencils for each student.
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:
- How many trains do they see?
- Where is the train depot?
- Where do the tracks lead?
- Do the tracks cut straight through town or stay on the outskirts of the city?
- Are the names of the railroads listed on the view? If so, what are they?
- Does the railroad look new to the town, or is it already well developed?
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:
- When did the railroad first come to Austin?
- How did the citizens of Austin react when it arrived?
- How would the students have felt if they had witnessed the railroad’s arrival?
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.
- Sheet music covers:
- Historic American Sheet Music, Gussie L. Davis’ “In the baggage-coach ahead (1896),” Music 572 no. 9, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library.
- Historic American Sheet Music, Harry J. Lincoln’s “Sunset limited; March two-step (1910),” Music B-351, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library.
- Historic American Sheet Music, Ed Bimberg’s “That Railroad Rag (1911),” Music A-13; 1, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library.
- Video clips:
- Early Motion Pictures, Thomas A. Edison, Inc.’s “ Going Through the Tunnel (1898),” FEC 2838 (ref print), Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Washington, D.C.
- Early Motion Pictures, Thomas A. Edison, Inc.’s “Fast mail, Northern Pacific R. R. (1897),” Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Washington, D.C.
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.
- 3.1A describe how individuals, events, and ideas have changed communities over time
- 3.16A obtain information, including historical and geographic data about the community, using a variety of print, oral, visual, and computer sources
- 3.17B create written and visual material such as stories/poems/pictures/maps/graphic organizers to express ideas
- 4.21B describe how scientific discoveries and technological innovations have benefited individuals, businesses, and society in Texas
- 4.4C identify the impact of railroads on life in Texas, including changes to cities and major industries
- 4.13E explain how developments in transportation and communication have influenced economic activities in Texas
- 5.14E explain how developments in transportation and communication have influenced economic activities in the U.S.
- 5.24B identify how scientific discoveries and technological innovations such as the transcontinental railroad, the discovery of oil, and the rapid growth of technology industries have advanced the economic development of the U.S.
- 5.26D create written and visual material such as journal entries, reports, graphic organizers, outlines, and bibliographies
- 3.2A connect experiences and ideas with those of others through speaking and listening
- 3.14A write to record ideas and reflections
- 4.15A write to express, discover, record, develop, reflect on ideas, and to problem solve
- 4.4A connect his/her own experiences/information/insights/ideas with those of others through speaking/listening
- 5.15A write to express, discover, record, develop, reflect on ideas, and to problem solve
- 5.4A connect his/her own experiences, information, insights, and ideas with the experiences of others through speaking and listening
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.