October 16, 2011

History of the Santa Fe Depot

Compiled by Betty Jane Wilson, society president

"Days of the old depot numbered" read the headlines of the July 20, 1917, Farmers' Vindicator of Valley Falls followed by "What was once the pride of the whole country discarded to make room for the new."

The news article continued:
"The work of building the new and modern Santa Fe Depot at Valley Falls started the first of the month and is now on in earnest. Swanson Bros. of Topeka have the contract to build the $21,000 structure and ornament of our city from foundation to finish.

With the building of the new railroad station comes the story of the building and passing of the old depot after an existence of more than 45 years. Beginning in Topeka in the summer of 1868, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe was completed to Emporia in April 1870. Later in 1871, after a bond vote and securing the right of way, the construction of the Santa Fe from Atchison to Topeka was begun and in the spring of 1872 the 50 miles of road was completed.

It was a proud day for the people of Valley Falls (then Grasshopper Falls) with its new depot and a regular schedule of freight and passenger service. It was on the map as a railroad town. With the arrival of the railroad, Grasshopper Falls took on new life, built better and drew trade from a large territory.

Prior to that time, the business center was on north Sycamore Street and the route to and from the railroad was along Louisa Street, a block north of Broadway."

Later on the business center was relocated along east Broadway and became the main thoroughfare. The news of the planned new depot prompted the following from the same news item, "We hail with joy the coming of the new depot, the next thing to a union station, right in the busy end of our prosperous town, refreshed by pure sand springs water, lighted by electricity, and kept healthful by sanitary sewers. . . the building of the new station at the foot of that wide street will be the way there too for many generations, perhaps."

Then, sadly, generations later, from the pen of the late Edith Harden of the Valley Falls Historical Society, Nov. 6, 1980: "The old Santa Fe Depot, sentinel of the past and shorn of virtually everything except its storehouse of memories, is gone—destroyed by fire Saturday (Halloween). Don Watkins of the State Fire Department, after examining the ruins of the building, said, 'There was human involvement in the fire.'

"The red brick depot, once the pride of the community, had been abandoned since the Corps of Engineers acquired the property and the Santa Fe moved their freight office to the new location. Vandalism, flood water, and neglect had taken their toll and the cost of restoring the building was considered prohibitive by city officers.

"The old depot was considered the finest small town rail station in Kansas, built in 1917. It was the hub of activity as passengers arrived and departed in that era now long gone. There is a certain sadness and nostalgia as old timers talk of the burned building. The old depot has won a place in local railroad lore, along with the steam engine whistle, the telegraph key, the old water tower, and the old Boston fern in the waiting room."

Offsprings of the old Boston fern (circa 1915) now resides at the Valley Falls Historical Society museum.

The museum will be open Saturday at 10 a.m.

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