Temple was founded on June 29, 1881 by the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad Company. The Santa Fe needed a town at a major junction point to provide services for railroad equipment and passengers. Railroad trains were brought from five cities in Texas with prospective buyers. Those passengers who bought land were refunded their passenger ticket price. There was a party, barbecue and auction of town lots, and fun for all. Temple was named for Mr. Bernard Moore Temple, the chief engineer who built the tracks through Bell County.
Temple had many nicknames in its early days. It was named Mudville, for its thick backland prairie soil; Tangle foot for both its mud and for its reputation as a wild frontier town; and Ratsville for its abundant supply of those four-legged creatures. Luckily, Temple has solved all of these problems. Arriving trains brought women, children, china, crystal, and all the touches of modern society. Whole families loaded their furniture, tools, animals and sometimes even themselves onto boxcars and came to Temple to settle. Temple grew very fast, and became “Progressive Temple” and the “Prairie Queen”. It also became known as the “City of Trees” due to Mr. Goodrich Jones, a resident who is the father of Arbor Day in Texas.
Water was always a problem in Temple as it had no natural water source. Several different less than successful projects were tried, including building a huge water pipe, which promptly collapsed upon filling. Finally water was piped from the Leon River, and now comes from Lake Belton.
By 1897 there were four railway lines in Temple: the main line and San Angelo branch of the Santa Fe, the main line and Belton branch of the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas. Each day there were 23 trains carrying passengers to and from the city. In the Spring of 1894, the Temple Cold Storage and Ice Factory was furnishing ice to the Santa Fe. By 1900 a city sewer system was installed and in 1905, there was an artificial gas plant. In that same year, the Interurban (trolley car system) between Temple and Belton was built.
By 1908, there were two oil mills, two planking mills, 22 physicians, six dentists, eight druggists, twelve real estate men, six restaurants, three hotels, twelve lawyers, six cotton gins, four wholesale groceries, twelve churches, several lumber yards, three cotton compresses, and one race track and fair grounds just north of Lake Polk. The most popular restaurant belonged to Yee Pat Ling (1865-1916), a Chinese immigrant who found a welcome home in Temple and a friendly place to rear his large family. With all of these new businesses, Temple was on its way to becoming an important city for commerce, railroads and medicine.
The historic district of Temple is located north of the downtown district, and when these old houses were being built, this was “the country”. Many of the homeowners kept cows, chickens and kitchen gardens around their homes. The neighborhood is a collection of fine mansions and middle class bungalows, and certainly deserves a drive through to view a gentler era.
–By Mary Irving, director for the Railroad and Pioneer Museum.