Temple was born a railroad town in 1880, but the central Texas city is known more these days as a healthcare hotspot than a whistle-stop.
That isn’t to say you still can’t hear the whistle blowing downtown with Amtrak’s “Texas Eagle” passenger service making stops at Temple’s historic Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe station on its run between Chicago and San Antonio.
Temple is on the map today, however, as a regional medical powerhouse with Baylor Scott & White Medical Center, the teaching campus of Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, named last summer the No. 2 teaching hospital in the country.
The town of just under 80,000 is located in Bell County, 65 miles north of Austin and 34 miles south of Waco.
Santa Fe Railroad Buys 181 Acres and Temple is Born
Temple was founded by the railroad with the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad buying 180 acres (at $27 per acre!) of Jonathan Ewing Moore’s farmland in 1880.
“Santa Fe needed a central junction point for the hundreds of miles of railroad track that were beginning to spread throughout the state,” says the City of Temple history.
On June 29, 1881, the railroad shuttled prospective buyers from five cities for a land auction and after some good barbecue, 157 business and 28 residential lots were scooped up.
The new town, initially Temple Junction and later just Temple, was named after Bernard Moore Temple, Santa Fe’s chief engineer who helped lay the local tracks.
Today’s “city fathers” are no doubt glad that Temple stuck as the town’s name and not the other less-stellar names the new settlement was known by including Mudville, Ratsville, and Tanglefoot.
Temple Grows Quickly Along Twin Tracks
Temple was incorporated in 1882 and by 1884 had swelled to 3,000 residents including many doctors, lawyers, and merchants.
By this time, Temple had three churches, two banks, two weekly newspapers, a school and an opera house!
The railroad business was booming with the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad building a line through the town and Santa Fe Railroad making the town a division point.
It was the railroad that launched Temple’s medical reputation with Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway Hospital opening in 1891.
The next year, Dr. Arthur Carroll Scott and Dr. Raleigh R. White, Jr., started working at the railway hospital. They saw a need for medical care for the town’s residents as well and in 1904 teamed up to open their own hospital, the Temple Sanitarium.
The name as later change to Scott & White Memorial Hospital and the medical facility grew over the years, finally merging with Baylor Health Care System in 2013 to form the largest not-for-profit healthcare system in Texas and one of the largest in the United States with 48 hospitals, 900 patient care sites, 6,000 active physicians and 40,000+ employees.
Spending a Day Outdoors in Temple
There are plenty of outdoor activities in the Temple including 66 area parks, many which take advantage of the meandering Leon River.
Favorites among the locals include:
- Belton Lake: Boat ramps, bank fishing access, picnicking and camping are available at this lake with 136 miles of shoreline. Three marinas offer basic supplies and fuel. This lake has excellent fishing for smallmouth bass and hybrid striped bass.
- Mother Neff State Park: Along a scenic stretch of the Leon River lies one of Texas’ earliest state parks. Isabella Neff donated the original six acres for the park in 1921. The park today is 259 acres where you can hike, picnic, camp, and observe nature.
- Miller Springs Nature Center: 260-acre natural area located between the Leon River and 110-foot-high bluffs, just beyond the Lake Belton Dam. Free admission year-round from 8 a.m. to dusk.
Downtown Temple: Museums and a Food Truck Park
A daytrip to Temple is not complete without stopping by two of its fascinating museums:
- Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum: Located in the historic Santa Fe Depot at 315 West Avenue B, this museum hosts temporary exhibits, education programs, and special events. The museum’s collection of railroad equipment is displayed on the grounds, next to an active railroad yard where rail-fans can observe daily operations and traffic of the BNSF and Amtrak. The beautiful Santa Fe Gardens, Whistlestop Playground, and Temple Visitors Center are also nearby.
- Czech Heritage Museum & Genealogy: Housed in a mosaic-tiled 1931 storefront at 119 W. French Ave., this museum includes the story of Czech immigrants in Texas from 1850 to the early 1900s.
While downtown Temple has plenty of shopping and food options, a great bet is The Yard: Food Truck Plaza (212 S. Main St.) which includes options such as “Chock Full of Cheese”, “Lulamae’s Cajun Cuisine” and “Taqueria mi Lindo Nayarit”.