Awards of Excellence:
The A. T. & S. F. Passenger Depot

Year(s) Listed:
Location Class:
Built: 1888 | Year Saved: 1999
Contributor: Kansas Preservation Alliance

In 1885, the Southern Kansas began to make plans for a grand new depot.

Plans for a bigger, better depot

The Southern Kansas Railway Company (under the ownership of the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railroad) made plans to enlarge the machine shops and roundhouse and build a bigger, more elegant depot. Workmen began excavating the basement in October 1885, and the railroad received a shipment of sandstone from Elk County, Kansas, for the foundation.

Construction delays began almost immediately. Cement shipments were delayed. Winter set in. By March 1886, only the foundation was completed. Two months later, the freight depot was destroyed in a fire.

Construction delayed, construction stopped

Construction ground to a halt for months. In November 1886, the Southern Kansas Railway Company began building a new freight depot, but no work was done on the passenger depot. Wild rumors took flight. The Garnett, Kansas, papers reported the depot was moving to Garnett. The Ottawa papers reported construction would begin again in March 1887. Ottawans were angry that the thousands of visitors coming to town for the Chautauqua Assembly were treated to a view of a giant hole in the ground when they stepped off the train.

More promises made

In 1887, local architect George P. Washburn announced that he was hired to furnish plans and oversee construction of the new depot. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, parent company of the Southern Kansas, promised construction would resume in 1888, but Ottawans were skeptical.

George P. Washburn, Architect

Civil War veteran George Washburn (1846-1922) moved to Ottawa in 1879. He first found work as a carpenter on the Hamblin Block on the northeast corner of 2nd and Main streets in Ottawa. Soon, he was designing and building courthouses, churches, stores, train depots, and hundreds of residences. This depot and the courthouse are two of Washburn’s most prominent buildings in Franklin County.

“The…new depot pleases more and more as it nears completion”

Three years after the foundation was first excavated, construction resumed on the depot. Meanwhile, the AT&SF decided to built a more substantial structure out of limestone from Cowley County, Kansas, instead of brick called for in the original plans.

The local newspapers reported enthusiastically on the progress of the depot’s construction and highlighted local craftsmen working on the structure. Stonemason Sone Pierson, who supervised the stonework on many of Ottawa’s early buildings, personally selected the cornerstones. Irwin C. Brown plastered the walls. N. Nebelong completed the carpentry.

Men worked on plumbing, gas fitting, steam pipes, painting, roofing, and framing. On December 27, 1888, the Independent-Journal announced, “The new Santa Fe Depot will be finished this week, and occupied by next week at the farthest.”

Becoming a Museum

In 1962, the depot at 135 West Tecumseh was donated to the Franklin County Historical Society, which reopened the depot’s doors in 1963 as the Old Depot Museum. In 1996, the Franklin County Historical Society received an ISTEA grant, and the building underwent major rehabilitation before reopening in 1999.

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