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Stone Depots along the Oregon Short Line

By Thornton Waite

There was an article on stone depots on the Union Pacific Railroad in the Volume 7, #3 issue of "The Streamliner" showing stone depots in Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska, using photographs taken by Joseph E. Stimson. Less well-known is the fact that there were several stone depots on the Oregon Short Line in Idaho, Oregon, and Utah. Five of them were built to the same, or at least a similar, plan in the same time period. These standardized depots designs were prepared by the railroad's engineering department.

Most of the depots on the Oregon Short Line were standard wooden structures, although by the beginning of the twentieth century both Boise and Nampa, major cities, had one-of-a-kind brick and stone buildings due to their importance. Even Pocatello, a major rail center with freight and passenger trains going in all four directions of the compass, didn't get a brick depot until 1915. There were also a few other brick and stone depots built for specific purposes. Rexburg, Idaho had an attractive 2 story stone depot building, constructed from stone. The 24' x 75' building replaced a wooden depot which had burned down, and was used by the students of Ricks College, located in Rexburg. This depot had a tower over the agent's office similar to the ones at Caldwell and Ontario. It was stone with brick trim. There was also an attractive depot at Blackfoot, built in 1913. The one story stone depot with stone trim was 42' x 132', and was part of an upgrade for the facilities at Blackfoot, which was the junction of the Montana Subdivision with the Mackay and Aberdeen Branches. A few other brick and stone depots were built in later years, notably at Nampa, Boise, American Falls, and Shoshone. They were built for specific purposes under special circumstances.

The four remaining stone depots are the ones at Caldwell and Weiser in Idaho; Ontario, Oregon; and Brigham City, Utah, while the Payette, Idaho, depot has been razed. One of them, the depot at Weiser, even had the distinction of being classified as a Union Station since the Pacific & Idaho Northern, once an independent line, ran from Weiser north to New Meadows. Three of these stone depots are on the National Register of Historic Places.

The reasons for the new, substantial stone depots were typical of the time - prestige, population, and location of a railroad junction. Of the five depots, three were at the county seats when they were constructed. Caldwell is the county seat for Canyon County and Weiser is the county seat for Washington County, while Payette became the county seat for Payette County when it was formed in 1917. Brigham City is the Box Elder county seat in Utah, while Ontario is the nearest depot on the main line to the Malheur county seat of Vale, which is also on the Burns Branch of the Union Pacific.

The Richardsonian Romanesque style depots were either constructed with brick with rusticated cast concrete trim or made using cast concrete made to look like cut stone with brick trim. The use of the cast concrete was an innovation at the time. The process had been developed in the 1890s and was performed using portable equipment at the jobsite. It provided a less expensive building material than quarried stone and was durable. The process of casting concrete at the job site also provided a means of using locally available materials, minimizing material shipping costs. There were several styles used in the construction of the depots - brick with cast concrete trim, cast concrete with brick trim, and cast concrete with cast concrete trim. Tthe choice used varied and was apparently changed during the design of at least one depot. A sketch of the depot proposed for Weiser showed the building would be cast concrete with cast concrete trim, while the building as constructed was brick with cast concrete trim.

Some elements of H.H. Richardson's Romanesque style of architecture were incorporated in the design. The depots had steep hipped roofs with flaring eaves supported by wood brackets. Some features of Richardson's depots at New London, Connecticut, and North Easton Massachusetts were used in the design of these stone depots. There are also elements of the Queen Anne style of architecture. The brick and concrete buildings were a big step up from the standard wooden depot buildings normally provided by the railroad.

The design of each depot varied in minor details, but the 1-1/2 story buildings were 98' long with a 17' x 37' concrete basement. The baggage and express room was 28' wide while the rest of the building with the waiting rooms and ticket office was 30' wide. There was a large bay window with a tower on the track side. Dormer windows were on the second floor on each end and on the track side, one on each side of the ticket office. The second floor was not finished when the depots were built, but was available for use as offices if business grew. Access was to the second floor was from the baggage room, and an exterior set of stairs led down into the basement, where the coal-fired furnace was located. The furnace provided steam heat to the depot. There was a separate freight house, although the depot had facilities for the waiting rooms, ticket office, baggage and mail facilities, and freight.

The main entrance was on the street side through a large door under a large bay window and arch. The women's waiting room was on one end of the depot building, followed by the ticket agent's office with the bay window. This area included the indoor restrooms and main entrance. The men's waiting room was on the other side of the agent's office, and the baggage/express room was on the end. The second floor area was above the agent's office. The grounds were landscaped with shrubbery and bushes, which had to be irrigated due to the dry country. The depots were part of E.H. Harriman's plans to upgrade the Oregon Short Line, which he brought out of bankruptcy in 1897.

The depot designs and track layouts were relatively simple since the towns were small and the train operations were simple and straightforward. The main line trains of the Oregon Short Line stopped at the depots, and the towns were all junctions with a branch line, usually also owned and operated by the Oregon Short Line. Only the depot at Payette was a true union station, since the Pacific & Idaho Northern was initially an independent line. As the passenger traffic declined the branch line trains were discontinued. Fewer and fewer passengers rode the main line passenger trains, so the station stops were discontinued. By 1971, when the Union Pacific passenger trains were discontinued, the Caldwell, Ontario, Payette, and Weiser stations were still scheduled stops, but Brigham City was only a flagstop for the tri-weekly Butte Special.

Following the end of passenger service on May 1, 1971, the depots were used only by the freight agent. After the duties of the freight agent were consolidated at a call center in the early 1980s, the railroad no longer had a need for the depots. Proposing by the railroad to raze the buildings resulted in enough community support that 4 of the 5 depots were saved and have been renovated and are being used for other purposes. Only the Payette depot was torn down.

A more detailed look at the depots and the history of the towns gives a better idea of why the depots were built at those locations. They are unique since they all received a solid, substantial depot, but the design of the buildings was common, with the exception of some minor details.

The towns in southern Idaho were established following the construction of the Oregon Short Line across the state in the early 1880s. Brigham city has a slightly longer history, since the Utah Northern Railroad was built through the city in the mid-1870s.

Caldwell, Idaho

The History of Caldwell

Caldwell was first settled on September 27, 1883 when the Oregon Short Line passed through the area. Kansas U.S. Senator C.A. Caldwell was president of the Idaho and Oregon Land Improvement Company, which owned and platted the townsite in 1883. The Caldwell townsite was also backed by Union Pacific publicist Robert Strahorn. The Idaho and Oregon Land Improvement Company also sold land at Payette, Shoshone, Hailey, and Mountain Home and at other locations to promote the development of land along the new Oregon Short Line. By February 1884 the population of Caldwell was 600, there were 40 business houses., there was a school, and a telephone system.

The residents hoped that the proposed rail line to Boise City, the territorial capital, would be built from the Oregon Short Line starting at Caldwell, and some work was done in preparation of building the line. However, much to the disappointment of the Caldwell residents the Idaho Central Railway was instead built from Nampa, to the east of Caldwell, in 1887.

Caldwell was a major livestock shipping point, which is one of the reasons a new, larger depot was needed by the first decade of the twentieth century. One shipper shipped enough livestock to make a train over 100 miles long, and one year he brought in 156 cars of livestock from Arizona. During World War I another shipper sent out 40-50 carloads of horses and mules a month. The Caldwell Horse & Mule Company shipped 25,000 horses and mules during World War I, and in 1918 shipped 15,000 head of cattle, 250 purebred bulls, and 10,000 sheep. The stockyard covered 110 acres.

The population of Caldwell has never been very large, although it is the business center for the surrounding farming communities. In 1910 the population was 3543, and in 1918 it was about 5000. The population in 1938 was 6100 and in 2000 it was 24,050. Many residents commute to Boise today.

The Caldwell Railroad Depot

The railroad initially built a simple wood depot building at Caldwell. In 1888 there was a separate Pacific Hotel next to the tracks, which had a dining room. Two years later the Pacific Hotel was vacated and replaced by a new Pacific Hotel across the tracks from the depot. The town petitioned the railroad for a new depot as early as 1889, when passenger and freight receipts were $15,000 a month. A new 24' x 109' depot was also built in 1890, with a waiting room, ticket office, baggage room, and freight room and a bay window for the agent. A garden area was on one side of the depot. The depot was now on Railroad Avenue between 1st and 2nd Avenue West. By 1893 Caldwell also had a water tank with a pump house which got water from a well, a section house with a lean-to, a bunk house, and stockyards.

Hopes of a larger depot were dashed by the Panic of 1893 and the subsequent bankruptcy of the Oregon Short Line. When the Oregon Short Line built a new stone depot at Nampa in 1903, the community leaders in Caldwell immediately petitioned the Oregon Short Line for a new, comparable structure since Caldwell was the county seat for Canyon County, which had been established in 1891. The Oregon Short Line agreed to build a new depot in 1904 on the condition that the city close off 1st Street West, which they agreed to. By 1906 the depot was handling 61,980,000 pounds of freight, and ticket sales were $48,840, so the expense of a new, larger depot could be justified.

It is possible the proposed San Francisco, Idaho & Montana Railway helped provide the impetus for the construction of a new depot at Caldwell. The San Francisco, Idaho & Montana Railway was incorporated in 1904, with headquarters in Caldwell. The railroad planned to build a route through Caldwell between San Francisco and Montana, as implied by its name. However, no construction was performed until 1911, after it had been taken over by the Oregon Short Line, and even then the line was only built from Caldwell to 11 miles west to Wilder. The railroad then only ran a mixed train over the Wilder Branch from Caldwell to Wilder and back and no further construction was performed on the line.

The new brick and cast concrete stone depot was built at 701 South 7th Street, where 7th Street and Main Street intersect. It was close to the new (1903-04) Saratoga Hotel and the Old City Hall in downtown Caldwell. This was a period in which the downtown business district was being improved and upgraded with new brick and stone buildings. Most of the other buildings in the Caldwell business district were built at this time, with varying styles of architecture.

The estimated cost of the new depot was $40,000, at a time when the ticket sales at Caldwell were $48,000. The city planned to build their new city hall at the opposite end of what is now Seventh Street. When the depot was opened in early 1907 the newspaper noted the white fir trim, separate waiting rooms for men and women, and indoor bathrooms. Lighting was initially supplied with kerosene until a dispute with the local electric company was resolved, when electric lighting was provided.

The 1-1/2 story building is on a concrete foundation and is 30' x 126' with brick walls and sandstone and concrete trim. It had facilities for both passengers and baggage and express, with separate waiting rooms for men and women. The doorway has a keystone in the rounded archway, with large rusticated quoins and a tower entry, corbeled brick cornices, and rounded columns in the south dormer. The building is on an east-west axis, parallel to the main line, with the south side facing the downtown business district, and the north side facing the tracks. The south side has the most architectural detail, with a half story, cross-gabled entryway. There was a fan shaped window over the large door, with concrete steps leading up to the door. There were dormers on both ends and on both sides of the building, including one above the main entrance.

There was a sandstone belt four feet above the foundation base, and brick cornices with sandstone trim under the eaves. The dormers were removed prior to 1970 by the railroad. There is an ornate brick chimney on the tower. There was a park on both sides of the building, where passengers could wait for their train. The agent's bay window was angled on both sides, and the waiting rooms had a bay window on the street side, with doors to the platforms on the trackside.

Shortly after the depot was opened the ICC Valuation shows that Caldwell also had a one story wood freight depot, 24' x 140', built in 1886. The stockyards were built in 1906. There were also a two story section house, 28' x 28' with a 12' x 14' addition, built in 1884, and an ice house built in 1914. Caldwell had a water column, apparently using city water.

The depot was used by the freight agent after the passenger train service to Caldwell was discontinued in 1971. The Union Pacific Railroad stopped using of the depot for freight business in the 1980s. Although Amtrak inaugurated the Pioneer passenger train across southern Idaho in 1977, it did not stop at Caldwell, and the nearest station stop was at Nampa. The Caldwell Economic Development and city worked out a 99 year lease with the railroad in 1989, and it is now owned by the city. It was restored using funding from a variety of sources, including Transportation Enhancement money. The exterior of the depot was not changed much over the years, and no major changes were made when the depot was renovated, and the dormers were not restored. The depot is now being used for a community center with a small museum. The Caldwell Model Railroad Club built a model layout in the depot showing Caldwell at the turn of the century, and the building is available for rent for special events. A new landscaped park is in the front of the depot, facing the business district.

The Union Pacific Railroad did not want the depot included in the Caldwell Historic District, which was established in 1982, although it was determined that the building was eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Ontario, Oregon

The History of Ontario

Ontario was named by James W. Virtue, one of the founders, after his native province of Ontario, Canada, prior to the arrival of the Oregon Short Line in 1883. Four individuals, William Morfitt of Malheur City, Oregon, and James Virtue, Daniel Smith, and Mary Richardson of Baker City, Oregon bought land at a site just south of the junction of the Malheur and Snake Rivers, since they knew the railroad was going to enter Oregon for a short distance in this vicinity. The businessmen were gambling that the railroad would need the land for a depot. An agreement was reached with Robert Strahorn, who was promoting the settlement of the area, that the depot would be located on Virtue's land. A tent city was quickly established and streets laid out parallel with the tracks and avenues perpendicular to the tracks. Livestock were soon being shipped out through Ontario - $1,500,000 worth in 1899 in a 6 week period. The station was also a major shipping point for wool.

Construction of what became the Oregon Eastern Branch to Burns, Oregon, began in 1906 when the Malheur Valley Railway and the Vale & Malheur Valley Railway built a line to Vale, Oregon. The line was extended over the years until it reached Burns in 1924. With the opening of the Oregon Eastern Branch to the west, much of the shipping activity was no longer transacted at Ontario and originated on the new branch line. When construction of the Owyhee Dam took place between the years 1928 and 1932 Ontario was again a busy site due to the shipments of materials and equipment to the dam site.

The Ontario Railroad Depots

The first depot in Ontario was a 1-1/2 story building constructed in 1884-85 just south of the present building. It may have been converted to a freight house following the construction of the present depot, and it is believed to have been removed by 1911. In 1893 Ontario also had a 24' x 80 depot, a watchman's house, and stock yards.

After the turn of the century a new depot was needed not only to accommodate the increase in business but due to the construction of the Oregon Eastern Branch. The depot was built using cast concrete blocks with brick trim. The interior had lathe and plaster walls, later replaced with sheetrock, with a 6' tongue and groove wood wainscot and 14' ceilings. A park area is located to the east of the depot, which is at Depot Lane and Southeast Third Avenue.

The Ontario depot was almost identical to the one at Caldwell, with cast concrete trim with brick trim. Even the chimney design is the same. The foundation is on cast concrete sections, and there are 7 dormers on the flared roof. The window openings are cast concrete sills and lintels. The basement was for utility purposes. There was a loading dock on the south wall for the freight, and scales in front of the door on the west wall. The floors are tongue and groove fir. The interior was altered over the years as the railroad use changes, with dropped ceilings and painted floors.

Ontario was retained as a scheduled train stop until the end of Union Pacific passenger service in 1971. When Amtrak inaugurated the Pioneer train in 1977, Ontario was included as a station stop. At that time the depot was being used by the maintenance of way crews and a freight agent. Amtrak used a small modular "Amshack" modular building next to the Ontario depot. The Ontario depot was also donated to the city and restored for community purposes. It is located at 300 Depot Lane, at Depot Lane and Southeast Third Avenue.

With the closure of the depot in the 1980s, the City of Ontario acquired the building from the Union Pacific in 1996. It owns the depot and leases the land from the railroad. The depot was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999 and has been restored and used for community purposes.

Payette, Idaho

The History of Payette

The Payette area was originally called "Boomerang". When the first post office was opened in 1864 it was known as Payetteville. The town was named for the Payette River, which runs from McCall and joins the Snake River at Payette. The river was named for Francois Payette, a Canadian fur trapper and explorer who came to this area in 1818. He was the first white man and brought the first cattle to the area.

Railroad ties were floated down the Payette River and used to build the Oregon Short Line in 1883, and by the next year there was a store at Payette. With the completion of irrigation projects Payette became a major shipping point for the fruits raised in the orchards, and the town was incorporated in 1901. The population in 1910 was 1948, and in 1918 it was about 2500. In 1938 the population was 2618 and in 2000 it was 7020.

One reason for the large stone depot was that Payette was the junction of the main line of the Oregon Short Line with the railroad's Payette Branch. In 1906 the Payette Valley Railroad was built from Payette to New Plymouth, and in 1909 it was extended to Emmett as the Payette Valley Extension Railroad. Consequently freight traffic was interchanged at Payette between the main line and branch line trains, a practice that continues today, with the line to Emmett being operated by the Idaho Northern & Pacific.

The Payette Railroad Depot

The first depot at Payette was a narrow gauge boxcar put off by the side of the tracks for use by the agent and operator, installed when the Oregon Short Line was built through the area. It was eventually replaced by a permanent depot so that in 1893 Payette had a 24' x 60' depot building, located on Railroad Street between Tioga and Mill streets. There was also a water tank and a pump house which got water from the river, a section house with a lean-to, and stock yards.

Following the construction of the Payette Branch the need for a new, larger depot was apparent. The railroad built one in 1907, to the same plan as the ones at Ontario, Weiser, and Caldwell, except that it was cast concrete with contrasting cast concrete trim. The depot was the same 28' and 30' deep by 98' wide with a 17' x 37' basement. The ladies waiting room was on the north end of the depot, the agent's office was in the bay window, and the men's waiting room was on the other side of the agent's office. The baggage and express room was on the south end of the depot. For several years there was a large elk statue in front of the depot, facing downtown Payette, with a park on the downtown side of the depot. The freight depot and water tank were to the south of the depot.

The ICC Valuation shows that Payette also had a 24' x140' freight house built in 1891 and a stockyard built in 1901. There was also a pumphouse, a wood water tank 24' diameter by 16' high on cast iron legs, all built in 1891, and a water column, as well as a 3' x 4' outhouse. There was also a two stall wood engine house, 28' x 76', used for the motive power on the Payette Branch.

The depot was discontinued as passenger station in 1971 and used by the freight agent. The dormers were removed at some point, but other than that only minor changes were made to the depot. The agency was closed in 1983 when the freight agents were replaced by the Customer Service Center in St. Louis and then torn down shortly after the depot at Nampa was razed.

Weiser, Idaho

The History of Weiser

The derivation of the name for the city of Weiser is not known for certain. It may have been named for either Peter Wiser (or Weiser) of the Lewis and Clark expedition; Jacob Weiser, a prospector who helped found the town; or a trapper named Jacob Wayer/Wager who was a member of Donald McKenzie's party in 1818.

The location became a stage stop in 1863. In 1877 a settlement called Weiser Bridge was laid out at the end of what is now Commercial Street, located on the Weiser River. In 1879 Weiser was named the county seat for the new Washington County and the population increased to 200 in 1883, up from 52 in 1880. In 1883 the name became officially Weiser.

The first settlement at Weiser River Bridge had a population of 52 in 1880 and 200 by 1883, when it was named officially Weiser. In that year the Oregon Short Line reached a point 1-1/2 miles south of the townsite, and travelers took a stage to reach the townsite. Prior to the arrival of the railroad, travelers had to ride the stagecoach from Kelton, Utah, on the Central Pacific. Strahorn promoted the area under the auspices of the Idaho and Oregon Land Improvement Company and selected the location over the nearby town of Salubria as the depot site. The first train arrived on January 5, 1884, stopping at what is now Lower Crystal Springs, 2 miles away, much to the disappointment of the Weiser residents.

The first station was 1-1/2 miles southeast in Sunnyside, across the Weiser River. The railroad began consruction of a frame depot at this location, which was called New Weiser. It was promoted by Robert Strahorn, a publicist for the Union Pacific who worked with local businessmen to develop Caldwell, Hailey, Shoshone, and Mountain Home. The Weiser residents opposed the new townsite, and after several confrontations it soon failed.

After along debate the village was moved to its present location, possibly due to the fear of high water. By 1886 the railroad was laying tracks for a new siding and building a depot at Old Wesier, at the end of state Street. The Land and Improvement Company platted a townsite and cleared 5 acres of land. However, this location was about a mile from the existing townsite, and in 1890 a fire destroyed the original townsite so that the depot area became the Weiser business center.

The importance of Weiser is reflected by the fact that in 1885 the Oregon Short Line served only one town with a population of more than 500, and that was Weiser, which had 700 residents. By August 1886 a depot was being built at Old Weiser with promotion by the Idaho and Oregon Land Improvement Company. The two towns were separated by about a mile, and it was not until a fire in 1890 destroyed Old Weiser that the New Weiser townsite was accepted as the businesses moved to be closer to the railroad tracks, at the confluence of the Snake and Weiser Rivers.

The Weiser population in 1910 it was 2600, and in 1918 about 4000. In 1938 the population was 2436 and in 2000 it was 5305.

The Weiser Railroad Depot

By the turn of the century Weiser was a major shipping point due to the nearby Seven Devils mines and the cattle, sheep, and agricultural products raised in the area, along with the timber. A new smelter was also being built in Weiser in 1900, and in 1901 a new branch line had been started to reach the mines. The railroad also had stockyards at Weiser. Starting in 1899 the Pacific & Idaho Northern Railroad was built from Weiser towards New Meadows, although construction of the line to New Meadows wasn't completed until 1911. This increased business lead the local residents to press the Oregon Short Line for a new depot.

The first depot was 24' x 60' and was located at the intersection of State with the railroad tracks, as was the second depot. This was also the junction of the Oregon Short Line with the Pacific & Idaho Northern.

In May 1906 the railroad announced plans for a new $10,000 depot, which would also be used by the new Pacific & Idaho Northern trains. By December the cost of the depot had risen to $20,000, and the overall improvements in the area were $40,000. It was scheduled to open in March 1907.

Construction of the new Weiser depot started in 1906 at One State Street, facing downtown Weiser and was completed in 1907. The Weiser depot is built using brick with cast concrete stone trim, although the original plans were apparently for a cast stone building with brick trim. It was built in 1906 and had electric lighting and a partial basement. The previous depot was moved 300 yards to the west and used for a freight depot and the water tank moved 100 yards to the west, with water columns on the east and west sides of the new depot A park was set aside next to the depot, to the west of the freight depot and north of the tracks.

The ICC Valuation shows that the depot had the same dimensions as the other three depots, with a depth of 28' and 30' and a width of 90' with a 17' x 37' basement. There were two waiting rooms, with the ladies waiting room on one end, the ticket office, and then the men's waiting room. The restrooms and main entrance were by the ticket office. The baggage and express room was on the opposite end of the building. The upper half story was above the ticket office. The doors were framed by the cast stone quoins, as were the corners of the building. There were dormers on the sides and ends of the building, which had a cross-gabled roof. Some of the dormers were later removed. The ticket agent had a prominent bay window, also with angled sides so that the agent could look up and down the tracks. The basement was under the agent and was used for the coal-fired boiler which provided steam heat for the building.

The ICC Valuation shows that in addition to the 1907 stone depot there was a one story wood freight house, 24' x 130', built in 1886, and a stockyard built in 1901. There was also a 15' x 25' pumphouse, built in 1903, a wood water tank 24' diameter by 16' on cast iron legs, built in 1913, a water column, an intake well and a pumper's house, 9' x 37' built in 1915. There were also a section house, 24' x 32', built in 1903, and bunkhouses, built in 1903 and 1913. Due in part to the Pacific and Idaho Northern Branch, Weiser also had a 16' x 64' covered coal platform built in 1913, a 3 stall brick roundhouse with 64' stalls and a 60' girder turntable, both built in 1901 and a sand house, built in 1909. The P&IN built its own two story wooden freight depot in 1907, at the south end of town on Washington.

The Union Pacific continued to use the depot for the freight agent after the end of passenger service in 1971, but closed the Weiser depot in 1985 when the agent was replaced by the St. Louis call center. It was then scheduled to be razed. The City of Weiser obtained ownership in 1988 and leased it to the non-profit Weiser Architectural Preservation Committee after plans to make it into a museum had fallen through. They own the depot and have restored it, using it for a community center, while the city maintains the grounds. The Weiser depot was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

Brigham City, Utah

The History of Brigham City

The history of the Brigham City depot and Brigham City have been closely associated with each other since the time the first Utah Northern Railroad train passed through. Brigham City, Utah was named after Brigham Young, the second leader of the Mormon Church. The city is the Box Elder county seat. It is at an elevation of 4,439 feet and in 2010 the population was 17,899 and the city is growing rapidly. Since it is at the mouth of the Box Elder Canyon, fresh water was available from the Box Elder Creek for irrigation and farming.

The area, at the mouth of the Box Elder Canyon, was originally called Box Elder from 1850 to 1851, for the creek where it was founded, and from 1852 to 1853 it was called Youngsville. In 1855, when a group of 50 families under the LDS apostle Lorenzo Snow arrived, they platted the land and moved onto the lots. On January 12, 1867 it was renamed Brigham City and the town had a successful cooperative until the panic of 1893. It was, and still is, a prosperous agricultural area, and for many years produce such as watermelons, peaches, tomatoes, and even fresh trout, were raised and shipped from Brigham City.

In the 1950s the Thiokol Chemical Corporation built its plant to the west of the city, in the mountains and near Promontory Summit. NASA rockets were tested and developed there, and the shuttle spacecraft were refurbished there as well.

Brigham City is the closest town to the Golden Spike National Historic Site, which is at Promontory Summit to the west of the town, where the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads met on May 10, 1869. Some of the line remains in service, and the right-of-way can still be seen further west to Promontory.

Brigham City, Utah, is at milepost 21.1 (from Ogden) on the Ogden Subdivision of the Utah Division of the Union Pacific Railroad, between Ogden, Utah and McCammon, Idaho. The history of the line dates back to the completion of the transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit on May 10, 1869, which resulted in the growth and development of Utah. Since the Union Pacific did not have any money and could not pay Brigham Young for the work his crews had performed building the new transcontinental line, the Union Pacific paid Brigham City him with rail and rolling stock, so that he was able to start his own railroad empire. He built the Utah Central south from Ogden to Salt Lake City, and the Utah Northern Railroad began construction towards the Montana mines. The first ground for the Utah Northern was broken at Brigham City on August 26, 1871 and began building north to the Cache Valley, which it reached in the following summer (Huchel, p. 120). Construction ended at Franklin, Idaho in 1874, and the road entered bankruptcy. The line was also extended south to Ogden, although it initially connected with the new transcontinental line at Corinne. The Utah Northern Railroad entered bankruptcy and reorganized as the Utah & Northern Railway in 1878, and under the control of the Union Pacific Railway extended its line north to Butte and Garrison, Montana. the line through Brigham City remained narrow gauge until 1890, when it was converted to standard gauge.

Brigham City has always been an important railroad junction, location of the junctions with the 51.5 mile Malad Branch to Malad, Idaho, the 50.8 mile Cache Valley Branch through Logan to Preston, Idaho, and the short Bushnell Hospital Spur in the town of Brigham City. The Malad Branch also had three short branch lines, the Bear River Branch from Garland to Bradford, the Thatcher Branch from Tremonton to Sunset, and the line from Corinne to Roche. The line to Garland, on the Malad Branch, was completed in 1903, a distance of 16 miles, and the new line was used to deliver materials to the Garland Sugar Factory which was completed in the following year. Although the Cache Valley Branch had been in use since the Utah Northern began operations, the Malad Branch was opened in segments, not being completed until 1906. The Brigham City Sugar Factory was built in 1916 and operated until 1937 and subsequently razed in 1944. In World War II a short branchline was built to the Bushnell Military Hospital in Brigham City. Wounded military personnel and medical employees rode the train to and from the hospital.

The Brigham City Railroad Depot

The extension to the sugar factory at Garland was completed in 1903 and the first train ran to Malad on January 1, 1906, and that business out of Brigham City increased so much that the city needed a new, larger depot. The new depot was built in 1906 using a new standard plan prepared by the Union Pacific Railroad, in keeping with E.H .Harriman's plans to expand and improve the railroad and to minimize engineering costs by using standard designs. It was located at the bottom of the hill 8 blocks from the Brigham County court house on West Forest Street

The depot has been attributed to an architect named A.C. Rainey, and the design is similar to the depots at Payette, Weiser, and Caldwell in Idaho and Ontario, Oregon, which were all built in the same time period. Only some of the details, such as the stone corners and trim, differ. The building is 38' by 98' on a foundation made using 80 tons of concrete, so that passing trains do not cause vibration in the building. The depot was made using concrete cast into molds that made the concrete look like cut rock.

The depot was officially opened on May 19, 1907. The ladies waiting room was on the north side, the main lobby in the center led to the ticket office and agent's office with the bay window on the west side, and the men's waiting room was on the south side. South of the men's waiting room was the freight office, complete with a large set of scales used to weigh the produce shipped from the station. The second floor was accessible using a set of stairs, with the option of converting it into the living quarters for the station agent. This was never done, since the agent apparently preferred to live away from the tracks. The building has dormers and multiple-hip roof, with large overhanging eaves supported by ornate wooden brackets. The main entrance was through a large double door in the center of the east side, and the bay window was on the west side, so the agent could look down the tracks for approaching trains. The 18' by 34' basement had a 7' ceiling.

Business continued to increase, and in 1910 the Oregon Short Line shipped out 140 carloads of produce. The fruits included peaches, watermelons, cantaloupes as well as tomatoes, fresh trout from the Mantua Hatchery, and canned goods from the nearby canneries. In 1925 there were 25 passenger trains departing the station each day, running between Salt Lake City and Ogden to the south and to Pocatello, Idaho and West Yellowstone and Butte, Montana to the north. There were also local trains on the Malad and Cache Valley branches. There were also local trains to and from Malad and through Logan to Preston, Idaho. During World War II there were up to 14 employees working at the depot, in part due to the Bushnell Military Hospital for wounded military personnel.

Over the years there were through passenger trains from Salt Lake City north to Montana, with connections to trains to the Pacific Northwest, and the local trains on the Malad and Cache Valley branches. The passenger service declined over the years, as travelers chose to go by automobile and airplane. In 1964, the Union Pacific was running the daily Butte Special between Salt Lake City and Butte through Brigham City, and in previous years had operated the Yellowstone Special between Salt Lake City and West Yellowstone in the summer months. There was also a mixed train, #311/312, between Brigham City and Malad and another mixed train, #303/304, between Brigham City and Preston. These mixed trains were discontinued within a few years, so that by May 1, 1971, with the Union Pacific Railroad ended all passenger train operations, only the tri-weekly Butte Special remained and stopped at Brigham City for a few years.

There was once a small park to the south of the depot and a water tank for the steam locomotives. The water tank had a capacity of 50,000 gallons, supplied from the city water system. The yards were to the north of West Forest Avenue, and there was a small stockyard for shipping livestock.

By May 1, 1971 the sole remaining passenger train stopping at Brigham City was the tri-weekly Butte Special, which ran between Salt Lake City and Butte, Montana. By then the station stop had been relegated to a flagstop, so that the train stopped there only on signal from a passenger. When Amtrak took over the nation's passenger service on May 1, 1971, the Butte Special was one of the many trains they chose not to operate. Service was reinstated by Amtrak in June 1977 with the inauguration of the Pioneer between Ogden and Portland/Seattle. A small modular building informally known as an "Amshack" was placed across Forest Street, to the north of the depot, and used for a passenger shelter. After several years of minimal ridership the station stop was discontinued about 1981 and the Amshack moved to Cache Junction. The train was later operated out of Salt Lake City, but after 20 years of operations it was discontinued in 1997 due to low patronage.

The depot at Brigham City continued to be used by the Union Pacific for freight business and maintenance storage, but the building was allowed to deteriorate. After the possibility of being razed was discussed by the railroad, Delone Glover, president of the Golden Spike Association, began negotiations in February 1992 with the Union Pacific Railroad for title to the building. The building was place on the National Register of Historic Places on July 16, 1992, and the deed for the building was transferred by the railroad to Box Elder County in February 1994. The county immediately transferred the title to the Golden Spike Association, which currently owns the building, and the association began restoration, with the goal of having it reopened for the state's centennial in 1996. The railroad requested the depot be moved away from the tracks. However, the estimated cost of $30,000 was too high for the Golden Spike Association, so the railroad relented and the depot is on its original site.

The depot had not been changed much over the years, although the door on the west side was replaced with a more modern metal door. The wood trim inside the building was the original and in good condition, and even the telegrapher's desk was still in the depot. When the association got the depot, they found a second room had been added in the waiting room, and it was removed. Up to 7 coats of paint were removed from the walls, and the stained pine wainscoating was stripped and re-varnished. The wood floor was to be restored later. The lighting fixtures were gone, but the association found some from a school which replicated them. The false ceiling was removed, and the two remaining waiting room benches were refinished. The new metal door on the west side has also been replaced with one which fits in with the original design. The heating system was moved into the basement, with ducting from the gas furnace distributing heat to the main floor.

The wood shake roof had to be replaced since it leaked, and the original windows were scraped and repainted. Over 27,000 man-hours of labor was used to restore the building. In 1994 the MGM movie science fiction movie Species was filmed at the depot. Some cosmetic restoration for the movie helped the building appearances. The Box Elder Tourism Council helped pay for the metal fence on the track side of the depot, and Eagle Scouts helped landscape the grounds. The cost to restore the building was over $200,000, much of it supplied by volunteer labor.

The depot is owned and operated by the Golden Spike Association, a volunteer group dedicated to the preservation of the golden spike heritage and the Golden Spike National Historic Site. It was organized in 1957. The organizations headquarters are at the depot, 833 West Forest, Brigham City, Utah, 84302, telephone (435) 723-2989. The museum is open 1-5 PM Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and closed from December 24 through May 1. the depot includes a small museum in the former ladies waiting room on the north end, with a small gift shop on the south end. The small triangular garden to the south of the depot has large cast concrete letters "BRIGHAM". Union Pacific caboose 24516 is on a side track next to the depot, and is also being restored. There are plans to use it for a library and meeting room.

The train yard, to the north of the depot, is still busy, with a major source of revenue being the Nucor Plant in Plymouth, Utah, where steel is recycled and the David J. Joseph plant next to it, which collects and stores the scrap metal..

The FrontRunner at Brigham City

The Utah FrontRunner commuter train, which currently (2012) runs between Salt Lake City and Pleasant View, north of Ogden, will be extended north to Brigham City. Based on several studies, the Brigham City depot will be a few blocks south of the Brigham City depot, at 200 South 800 West. Land has been obtained by the Utah Transit Authority for the station. Initial plans are to run peak-hour DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) trains between Brigham City and Ogden, where connections would be made with the FrontRunner trains to Salt Lake City. The existing depot site was not selected due to the curve south of the depot, since it created a dangerous situation for boarding and unloading passengers.

(See also: Brigham City Depot, by Thornton Waite, published in Locomotive & Railway Preservation, March-April 1996)


(brick; not stone)

Minidoka, located at milepost 272.6 (from Granger) and 58 miles west of Pocatello, was originally only a railroad junction, and was the first permanent settlement in Minidoka County, established in 1884 when the railroad came through and built a siding. With the Minidoka irrigation project in 1903-04 a small settlement developed. One reference indicates the name is an Indian word for "water hole" or "singing water", although there was no well water available until 1946. Another source indicates it is Shoshoni for "broad expanse". In 1910 the population was 150, and in 1918 about 400, but at one point the population of Minidoka was estimated at 1000 due to the opening of the irrigation land. The 1938 population was 193, and in 2000 it was 142.

Minidoka was the junction with the Twin Falls Branch and had extensive servicing facilities, including a coaling tower and water tank. The depot, built in 1909, was 28' x 55' and 24' x 30'. It was a brick building with a cast concrete base and trim. It was only one story, due in part to the fact to its isolated location and small population.

(ed note: Minidoka was the junction with the Third Subdivision of the Idaho Division, and the Twin Falls, Oakley, Raft River, North Side and Wells branches.)

Although it is not known who designed the depot, it was probably performed by the railroad's engineering forces. The style and design of the depot has numerous similarities to the ones built in 1907. The roof had several dormers, and there was a central tower over the ticket agent's office, although not as large as the one on the 1907 depots. It also appears there were two waiting rooms separated by the agent's office, along with the baggage room on the far end of the building.

The depot was closed in 1985 and then razed. It is an isolated community, but still an important interchange between the Union Pacific and Eastern Idaho Railroads.

OSL Stone Depots Compared

Brigham City






  1. Carr, Stephen L., and Robert W. Edwards, Utah Ghost Rails, Salt Lake City: Western Epics, 1989.
  2. Huchel, Frederick M., A History of Box Elder County, Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, 1999.
  3. Van Cott, John W., Utah Place Names. Salt Lake City: University of Utah, 1990, 1997 edition.
  4. ICC Valuation
  5. National Register of Historic Places Listings