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Grayson County, North Central Texas
US 75
Just south of Oklahoma
12 miles N of Sherman
73 miles N of Dallas
Population: 22,766 (2010) 22,677 (2000)

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Denison TX - Eisenhower Birthplace
Photo courtesy Jay Goode
Eisenhower's Birthplace
History in a Pecan Shell

By Robin Jett

If you like railroads (and even if you don't), Denison is your kind of city. Founded in 1872 as the connecting point of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas ("Katy") and Texas Central Rail Lines, Denison blossomed into one of the South's most important transportation centers, serving as the first rail stop across from the Indian Territory - as Oklahoma was known before statehood.

Goods from the seaport at Galveston could be carried to St. Louis through Denison, and grain and beef from Kansas and other points north could finally make their way to Texas and the rest of the southwest via the Katy Lines.

Denison's spirit as a fast-paced commercial hub could be found in its citizens as well as its architecture. Dwight David Eisenhower, son of a Katy engineer and future commander of the Allied Forces at Normandy (oh, and also a two term U. S. President), entered the world in a white frame house in the humble part of town. The downtown area housed saloons, hotels, manufacturing plants, banks, and plenty of culture. This "new" town was giving Sherman, the Grayson County seat, a definite run for its money in terms of activity and affluence.

Denison Texas downtown
Downtown Denison
Photo courtesy Justin Parson, 2005
Old Grayson County Road Gang Cell, Denison, Texas
The Old Grayson County Road Gang Cell in Denison
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson
More Texas Jails

End of an Era
The decline of railroads signaled the end of Denison's boom days. At first, passenger service fell sharply. By the 1990's, the huge switching yards were dismantled and sold for scrap. The unusually large Katy Depot, which housed the corporate offices of the railroad, fell into disrepair, but it has since been restored and now serves as a mini-mall / special events center. When the new U.S. Highway 75 by-pass was built around Denison, the main thoroughfare also fell victim to progress and now it only offers faint hints of the city that once was.

Beginning of a New Era
But by no means is Denison becoming a ghost town. On the contrary, it is reviving itself into a historical showplace. Artists have discovered Denison's progressive flair and now the downtown area hosts festivals, galleries, shows, and even a wine tasting room (wine is not a far-fetched preoccupation in this part of the state - in the 1880's, world famous local vintner Thomas V. Munson saved the French grape crop from complete destruction by cultivating new stock). Lake Texoma is a recreation Mecca for Dallasites ready to leave the rat race for a spell. A museum located in the old Katy Depot gives justice to the railroad that shaped the town and Eisenhower's birthplace is now a well-visited state park.

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Historic Travel's Hotel, Denison, Texas
The Traveler's Hotel
Photo Courtesy Robin Jett

Some Haunting Spots…

Denison is the type of city that doesn't hide its past - in fact, you won't see many new buildings around town. No doubt that Denison has a few ghosts hanging around. Not only does the old abandoned high school in the middle of town probably sport a disembodied prom queen or two, but the Traveler's Hotel located just across the tracks from the Katy Depot can give a visitor Goosebumps. Built by a German sea captain named Ernst Martin Kohl, who opened it as a grocery store and saloon in 1893, it was converted into a hotel for railroad travelers in the 1930's. The National Register labels the architectural style Prairie, but if you've ever been to Central Europe, you'd think the building was a medieval fortress. The house is four stories tall, made of solid stone and timber and laced with wrought iron. Add to that heavy oak doors, stained glass windows, dark crawl spaces, a secluded garden and a wooden porch roof almost two stories tall… you get the picture. By the 1960's, passenger traffic abated so drastically that the hotel had to close, and a succession of owners tried to restore the house (a daunting task considering the unique style and size.) Currently, Christina Moon, a local realtor, is renovating the hotel, hoping it can eventually be opened for tours by January 2003. She has alluded to some odd coincidences and hints of haunting, although she won't elaborate… suffice to say she is in love with the house and will surely do right by it.

Denison is an old town that is not dying, but is re-inventing itself. It would be great if other by-passed towns in Texas would take the hint: don't destroy history, but embrace it. By the way, the old high school (it makes up an entire city block) is for sale…if anyone's in the mood to find ghosts.

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Denison, Texas water tower
Denison water tower
Photo Courtesy Robin Jett

Denison Attractions/Nearby Destinations

Weeping angel statue Calvary Cemetery Grayson County Texas
Weeping angel statue Calvary Cemetery Grayson County Texas
Weeping Angel - Calvary Cemetery
Photos Courtesy Justin Parson 2005
Weeping Angels
  • Denison, Birth Place of a President by Archie P. McDonald ("All Things Historical" Column)
  • Eisenhower State Park - 50 Park Road 20 Denison TX 75020-4878 903/465-1956
  • Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site - 609 S. Lamar Denison TX 75021 903/465-8908
  • Red River Railroad Museum - 104 E. Main Street
  • Loy Lake Park - Municipal park on Loy Lake Road, SW of the city.
    Picknicking, fishing, and boating.
  • Lake Texoma and the Denison Dam
    Impounding 89,000 acres of water, the dam itself is a mere five miles NW of Denison, Texas. It borders on the Texas counties of Cooke and Grayson and on the Oklahoma counties of Bryan, Love, Johnson and Bryan...
  • Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge -
    Over 300 bird species recorded
    11,300 acres of land and water on Lake Texoma.
    From US 75 between Sherman and Denison, take FM 691 to county airport, FM 1417 North 1.5 miles. Follow signs to the Refuge.
  • Grayson County Frontier Village - 903-463-2487
    Open year round except Thanksgiving. 7 days a week 1-4pm.
    Location of the annual Grayson County Holiday Lights Tour.
  • Munson Vineyards - On Grayson County College west campus.
    West of Intersection FM 1417 and FM 691

    September 2002

    © Robin Jett
    Author's Note: This time I sought out Denison, TX, home of the Eisenhower birthplace, Lake Texoma, and a major participant in Texas Rail Road history. It has a fascinating history, many off-beat attractions, and has that wonderful "lived-in" feel of many Texas communities. Denison's main road, Highway 75, was bypassed in the mid-90's and therefore the downtown area isn't what it used to be. However, it's rebounding nicely due to its civic minded citizens. They truly realize the attraction of Denison's rail road past. - Robin Jett

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  • Union Soldier Statue
    Photo Courtesy Mike Price, September 2007
    Union Soldier Statue and Memorial
    Fairview Cemetery
    Rialto Theatre, Denison Texas
    The Rialto Theatre in Denison
    December 1984 photo courtesy Billy Smith

    Denison Chronicles
  • Observations of Denison in 1874 -
    Excerpts from Texas 1874: An Eyewitness account of conditions in Post-Reconstruction Texas
    by Edward King and J. Wells Champney, Cordovan Press, 1978

  • Denison UFO by Mike Cox
    The January UFO sightings in Stephenville gave the national news media a brief respite from politics..., but the Erath County incident isn’t the Lone Star State’s first rodeo when it comes to mysterious objects in the sky...

  • Jan 25, 1878 - UFO Cartoon by Roger T. Moore
  • Denison High School, demolished in Texas
    Photo courtesy Mike Price
    Denison High School being razed

  • East Texas Savior of the French Wine Industry by Archie P. McDonald
    Those who favor a glass of wine, especially French wine, may not be aware of the debt they and the French owe to Dr. Thomas Volney Munson of Denison, Texas.

  • Denison TX - Old Hotel - Traveler's Hotel
    The Traveler's Hotel
    Photo courtesy Jay Goode

    Denison Texas Forum
  • Subject: Denison Weeping Angel
    On your wonderful page about the Weeping Angels. I am sad to inform you that her arm was broken off sometime this late winter or spring. I drove by and saw it , so sad! - Susan Hawkins, May 25, 2011

  • Subject: Denison
    I was in Denison a few weeks ago and found an old railroad station. Railroads and stations are one of my passions. Denison has an old hotel, too, that must have seen a lot of life. - Regards, Jay Goode, Goode Web Design, www.goodewebdesign.com, December 29, 2010

  • Subject: Razed- Denison 9/27/07
    Old Denison high school being razed following several months of legal fights. - Mike Price, September 26, 2007

  • Remembering the Old Denison High School
    I am Louise McLaughlin, a mixed media artist. I am so sorry the community of Denison lost their battle to save the Old Denison High School. As an artist, I would like to make a tribute to the people who went to DHS. I want to honor the memory and events from the century-old DHS. I am looking for historical information and pictures to form into a memorial, an artistic representation of the history of DHS and the people and events that help make Denison a great place to call home. If anyone can contribute images or information on the school, they can connect me at: weezycake@yahoo.com Thank You, Louise McLaughlin, September 19, 2007

  • Subject: Grayson County, Texas
    Sherman is about 25 miles west of Bonham, and its "twin city" to the north, Denison, is gateway to the Denison Dam which forms Lake Texoma, one of the largest man-made lakes. I live in the little town of Bells, ten miles east of Sherman. Then there is Savoy, two miles to the east of Bells and Ector is between Savoy and Bonham. These are just the towns between Sherman and Bonham on Hwy. 56 which was, until recently, Hwy. 82. Ten miles south on Hwy. 69 out of Bells is Whitewright.
  • In fact, this whole area is almost entirely made up of small towns where everyone knows everyone else and most know their history and/or are descendants of the founders. The Metroplex is rapidly making its way north and from McKinney south on Hwy. 75 it's hard to distinguish where one town ends and another begins.

    Being a "newcomer" to the area (only 33 years - raised in Lubbock), I can't tell you a lot of history but all of these places are filled with warm and welcoming people who love to tell stories of their towns. Hope you can get to some of them before Dallas does. Thanks for the great web site! - Margie Jackson, September 13, 2002

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