The North Texas town of Denison owes its existence to the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (alternately MKT or Katy) and William B. Munson, Sr. Having failed to persuade the city of Sherman to attract the railroad, Munson purchased land on the MKT right-of-way several miles to the northwest of Sherman, with the railroad’s commitment to establish its North Texas hub. There, in 1872, Munson platted a new town, which he named Denison, after MKT vice president George Denison. The railroad’s impact was immediate, creating a boomtown. Many of Denison’s 3,000 inhabitants in 1873 were transients, moving there to work for the railroad facilities or to provide services to the others. Main Street in Denison became the location for legitimate businesses like Waples-Platter Grocery Company, which initially provided provisions to the railroad workers, later becoming one of the largest wholesale grocers in the Southwest. One block south of Main Street lay Skiddy Street, where the town’s gambling halls and brothels were located, segregated in a de facto zoning effort. Francis Skiddy, the MKT railroad official after whom the street was named, was no doubt relieved when the street was renamed Chestnut Street in 1880. This, however, did not change the nature of the street’s businesses.
Fortunately, Denison’s citizens were not all depraved. In February 1873, the state’s first free public school opened in the town while respectable citizens formed fraternal organizations and literary clubs. The fertile land in North Texas supported ranchers as well as cotton, corn and wheat farmers, who in turn became important customers for the railroads. During the 1890s, Denison became the region’s commercial center, as five railway companies laid tracks through the town. Passenger and freight depots were built for the MKT, the Texas and Pacific, and the Missouri, Oklahoma and Gulf railroads within blocks of each other. The MKT building (above) was designed by Henry T. Phelps of San Antonio and opened in 1909. The concourse is expressed as a giant arched portal willed with glass, set between piers defined by paired pilasters, and crowned by an entablature and parapet. This imposing central block is flanked on either side by lower wings, each two stories in height, its service functions are on the main floor and railroad offices are on the upper, acting as a mezzanine overlooking the central concourse. The MTK’s service yards and roundhouse were located several blocks south of the depot.
Ernst Martin Kohl, born in Weimar, Germany in 1857, served as a captain in the German Navy before coming to the United States in the 1880s. After arriving in Denison in 1885, the industrious Mr. Kohl opened a grocery store and saloon in 1893 on a corner across the tracks from the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad depot. Kohl built his family’s residence above the store around 1910, adding three floors. As railroad passenger traffic increased after the Great Depression, Kohl moved his family out and converted the building to the Traveler’s Hotel . Denison has maintained its economic vitality over the years paired with Sherman, its larger neighbor to the south. The Ernst Martin Kohl Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 (ID# 76002035).
By the mid-1920s Denison had just over 17,000 residents and 400 businesses, including four banks. It also had two high schools, nine grade schools, and numerous churches. In 1936 Denison had 13,850 residents and 460 businesses. By the end of World War II the number of residents was just short of 16,000. The population was 26,000 in 1966, when businesses numbered just under 600. In 1989 Denison had a reported 24,234 residents and 427 businesses. In 1990 the population was 21,505, and in 2000 it was 22,773. Denison was the birthplace of the thirty-fourth president of the United States, Dwight David Eisenhower. The home he was born in in 1890 has been returned to its original appearance and sits in the Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site, a three-acre area that includes a museum.
REFERENCE: David Minor, “DENISON, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/HED04), accessed October 19, 2015. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association. L. Tuffly Ellis, “The Revolutionizing of the Texas Cotton Trade,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 73 (April 1970). Graham Landrum and Allen Smith, Grayson County (Fort Worth, 1960; 2d ed., Fort Worth: Historical Publishers, 1967).
LOCATION: Denison is on U.S. highways 75 and 69 seven miles north of Sherman in northeastern Grayson County.