About eight miles northwest of Seminole Canyon State Park is the old townsite of Shumla, Texas. Yet another stop along the Galveston, Harrisburg, & San Antonio Railroad, this station, situated on the north side of the tracks, got its start at the same time as the other railroad towns of the area, in 1882. The year before, hundreds of Chinese and European immigrants worked to connect the eastern and western halves of America’s second and southern-most transcontinental rail line.
Once a tent city stretching more than a mile long, it teemed with hundreds of graders and tracklayers as well as crew bosses, engineers, and a variety of camp followers, including peddlers, whiskey sellers, gamblers, and “working women.”
One of the railroad engineers, who had been to Eastern Europe, thought the area looked like the countryside around the Ottoman fortress of Shumla in the Balkans. The name was borrowed, and the settlement of Shumla, Texas, was born. At a site east of Shumla, the railroad tracks from the east, and the west were ceremoniously connected by a silver spike on January 12, 1883.
Though most of the people left the area once the tracks were laid, the site continued as a water station for the railroad, including a depot, water tank, and foreman’s house. Soon, several settlers made their homes around the depot; but, Shumla grew slowly and was never very large. In 1906, it gained a post office, but it was short-lived, closing just three years later in 1909. A freight station continued to function on the railroad into the 1930s.
After World War II, a gas station, store, and small motel were built on the south side of the tracks to service travelers along the highway. These continued to operate until the early 1970s and today are the only remaining remnants of this old town, except for the creatures and critters of the desert. There is nothing left of the original townsite, located about 100 yards northwest of these old buildings, on the other side of the tracks. The old depot was long ago moved to a private ranch about a mile west of Shumla and is now used as a barn. The original foreman’s house was also moved.
Over the years, numerous items have been found in the area representing the early days of railroad construction, including Chinese coins, opium bottles, fragments of teacups, and more. In 1995, an archaeological survey noted the remnants of a rectangular dry-laid stone structure about 20 feet wide and 70 feet long, a collapsed dome oven used for bread baking, a piled stone forge for blacksmith work, and rock piles suggesting tent sites.
We were notified in previous years that the few remaining buildings in Shumla were slated to be torn down. However, we are unable to verify if that has been the case.