By Tammy Hill Harvey
It’s a street that we all know well and most of us travel daily, but do you know how it got its name? Do you know the story of the man behind the street sign? Let me tell you about Henry King McHarg, the gentleman who not only gave our town Stamford, Texas its name, but was one of the greatest railroad men in New York and Connecticut.
Born February 6, 1851 in Albany, New York to John and Martha McHarg, Henry K. McHarg started his career early in the banking world by working as a clerk at age 15 in the firm of Lockwood & Company in New York City. He received his education at the Albany Academy, various private schools, and Walnut Hill a boarding school in Geneva, New York.
Over the next five years he diligently worked his way up the banking ladder staying with Lockwood & Company, until the day after his 21st birthday in 1872 when he bought a seat on the New York Stock Exchange where he remained until selling it in 1927. Henry K. McHarg, along with William Adams, began the brokerage firm of Adams & McHarg in 1873. The firm invested heavily in the railroads in and around the New York area. Adams left the firm, but McHarg stayed for the next 12 years continuing on his own.
In July 1875, McHarg married Fredericka Bremer Britton in New York, where they made their home. Trying to begin a family was not easy for the McHarg’s as they experienced the loss of their first three children. Edith May was born May 4, 1876 and John on December 22, 1877, neither of them living past infancy. Their third child, Madeline, was born November 26, 1878, but passed away on December 10, 1881. Henry and Fredericka went on to have two more surviving children, Henry Jr. born October 30, 1883 and Marion Adelaid born January 28, 1886.
During the late 1800’s Henry McHarg moved his family to Stamford, Connecticut. He then set about establishing himself in the railroad business as an owner rather than just an investor. In April of 1891, a group representing the bondholders of the Texas Central Railroad that included Henry McHarg, Charles Moran and Cornelius Gold bought the Texas Central Railroad that was in foreclosure. During this time Mr. McHarg made many trips to Texas. After a meeting with the E.P. Swenson and S.A. Swenson in November 1899, a deal was struck between the men. The Swensons gave Texas Central Railroad half of the town site land in exchange for making it the new end of the line. The 40 mile track from Albany, Texas, to the new town site began. While Henry McHarg was not born in Stamford, Connecticut, many stories indicate that he always thought of it as his hometown. Thus, he declared the new town site, Stamford, Texas. On January 8, 1900 Stamford, Texas was officially incorporated.
In the years that followed, Henry McHarg traveled the globe extensively. He made many voyages to Europe, France, and Switzerland. He bought, reorganized, and sold many railroad companies. One of which was the Virginia and Southwestern Railway which he sold for $6,000,000 in 1906. Mr. McHarg was also a philanthropist who chose to remain anonymous. His obituary in the New York Times states he gave over $2,000,000 to charities. One story that surfaced many times in the research for this article told of his generosity during Christmas of 1906. After the sale of the Virginia & Southwestern, a “Santa Claus” special occurred. A conductor, dressed as Santa Claus, traveled the length of the railroad with presents from Mr. McHarg to his former employees. The gifts included full years’ salaries to the higher officials, months’ salaries to all else who had been employed by the railroad for at least a year and various other gifts for the remaining employees. In July 1910, after the sale of the Texas Central Railroad, Mr. McHarg repeated his generosity by giving to those former employees in the same manner.
Being integral in the railroad industry also meant that Mr. McHarg had his fair share of legal trouble. In 1915 he and four other men were charged with violating the Sherman Antitrust Act. This act was passed by Congress in 1890. Simply put, this act restricted the growth of monopolies. But in just a few months, Mr. McHarg and others were acquitted of the charges, the judge stating there was no evidence of wrongdoing.
On May 8, 1925 his wife Fredericka passed away in Manhattan, New York. He remarried in June of 1927 to Elizabeth Clark Pierce.
A longstanding feud between McHarg and his son, Henry Jr. boiled over into the courtrooms when in April 1933 McHarg Jr. filed a lawsuit against his father. He claimed that his father agreed to give him control of the Detroit & Mackinac Railroad and sued him for $966,427. The case was settled in October 1939 for a reported $1,000,000. According to an October 1934 article in the New York Times, the rift between them was mended and they wept as they left the courthouse arm in arm.
Henry McHarg retained his position as president of the Detroit & Mackinac Railway until his death on January 28, 1941. He suffered a heart attack while on vacation in Lake Wales, Florida.
As for the Texas Central Railroad, the only construction this railroad produced under McHarg and the Moran brothers’ ownership was the 40 miles from Albany to Stamford and the additional 42 miles from Stamford to Rotan during 1906 – 1907. In 1910 McHarg and the Moran brothers sold their controlling stock of the Texas Central Railroad to R.C. Duff and J.M. West of Houston, Texas. They in turn, sold it to Colonel R.H. Baker of Austin, Texas. The railroad exchanged hands many times before being abandoned by the company in 1973.
Editors note: I would like to thank Sandra Rhea of the Cowboy Country Museum, Lucy Wedeking of the Stamford Public Library, and Callie Metler-Smith of the Stamford American for all of their help in writing this article. I would also like to thank them in advance for the multitude of questions I’m sure they will help me with on future articles. Last, but by no means the least, I would like to thank Michael Marugg, for keeping me on track, and focused. Thanks, Babe!