Milano: Where the railroad met the tomato

Milano, the crossroads of Sante Fe and International & Great Northern railroads, was a small metropolis of sorts.

The original union station building served both rail companies as a passenger, baggage and express depot.

A platform at the rear of the building was used for heavy freight and shipping cotton bales. On this platform in 1894 the Montgomer y Ward Company displayed the first automobile in these parts.

Electronic signal gates did not exist back then, so a large manual-operated iron gate was used at the track crossroads. No accidents were recorded during this time.

Both railroads had two section gangs for track repair. A simple hand-operated rail car powered by two men using a push-pull device moved the car along the track. Crews checked the line and made repairs as problems were located.

Vegetables and fruits were shipped from the Rio Grande Valley through Milano. This resulted in a storage building that lasted for three years until business declined.

The Thiels Estate gave the Sante Fe some land with the railroad agreeing to cross the land as part of that deal. In 1912, the railroad sold that land to J. H. Burnett who divided the land into lots which he sold or rented to persons interested in raising crops.

A Tomato “boom” was enjoyed for several years, when farmers raised and shipped tomatoes out of the area. J. H. Burnett and E. C. Smith supplied plants to local farmers and shipped plants by Parcel Post Express. Eggplants and sweet potato slips were added to make the business more lucrative.

During the tomato boom, Milano had two drug stores, a picture show, three grocery stores, two hotels, three cafes, a bank, lumber yard, furniture store and several other small businesses.

Milano chartered the First State Bank of Milano in 1912. The bank was taken over by Citizens National Bank of Cameron in 1929.

Milano’s economy shifted to a Co-Op Tomato Association.

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