Union Pacific Brigham City Depot
This page was last updated on March 29, 2011.
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By Thorton Waite
(Scanned from Locomotive & Railway Preservation, March-April 1996)
Thanks to the efforts of the Golden Spike Association, the former Union Pacific depot at Brigham City, Utah, is being restored to its original grandeur. The Golden Spike Association, founded in 1957, has since the 1940s been dedicated to preservation of Promontory Summit and commemoration of the May 18, 1869, driving of the "Golden Spike" which took place there, signifying completion of America's first transcontinental railroad. The association (which currently counts 30 active volunteers and another 21 actors) partakes in the annual re-enactment of the driving of the last spike, and helped to promote construction of the working replica 4-4-0 locomotives Jupiter and No. 119 (L&RP No. 49, September/October 1994, p. 32) that today grace the Golden Spike National Historic Site.
Brigham City, located on the present-day UP main line between Ogden, Utah, and southern Idaho, is close to Promontory Summit. The original transcontinental line from Ogden bypassed Brigham City slightly to the southwest; after that historic route was abandoned by the Southern Pacific in 1942, a 'remaining stub to Corrinne, Utah, was connected to the UP main line.
The UP line through Brigham City was built in 1871 as part of the narrow gauge Utah Northern Railroad, which became the Union Pacific-controlled Utah & Northern Railway in 1878. Standard-gauged in 1890, the U&N became part of the UP's Oregon Short Line subsidiary; it is still busy with freight trains and Amtrak's tri-weekly Pioneer.
The area around Brigham City has long been ideal for growing fruit, and many carloads of it were shipped from the city. Activity at Brigham City became so brisk that OSL began construction of a new two-story depot in 1906; this was completed by May of the following year. In 1910, 140 carloads of fruit were being shipped in season daily from Brigham City, and some 25 passenger trains called at the depot as well. These trains ran over the main line between Salt Lake City and the Pacific Northwest, and north on branches to West Yellowstone and Butte, Montana, and Malad City, Idaho.
Passenger service declined over the years, and the remaining tri-weekly passenger train, the Butte Special, was discontinued on May 1, 1971, when Amtrak took over the nation's passenger service. Freight traffic remained busy, however, and local freight was handled in a small yard just north of the depot. UP continued using the building for storage and maintenance work, but it was not maintained. Passenger service returned in June 1977, when Amtrak's Pioneer reinstated service between Salt Lake City, Portland, and Seattle. For its scheduled stop at Brigham City, Amtrak erected an "Amshack" modular shelter north of the historic depot building. Unfortunately the stop was soon cancelled due to lack of business, and the modular building moved away.
[photo] The Brigham City, Utah, depot was an attractive, dormered building, and the only one in the city built to a Craftsman style. Taken about 1910, shortly after it was built, this photo illustrates the depot at a time when some 25 passenger trains per day called there. Though appearing to be built of hand-dressed stone, these are actually concrete blocks resembling stone.
In February 1992, the Golden Spike Association began negotiations with Union Pacific to acquire the depot; deed to the building was received in February 1994. Meanwhile, in July 1992, the depot was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Restoration, estimated to cost approximately $218,000 utilizing mostly volunteer labor, is now under way; over 27,000 man-hours of volunteer labor have been expended to date. The association hopes to have the building restored by sometime in 1996, in time for the Utah State Centennial.
Funding has been an ongoing concern, and the association received a boost in 1994 when MGM's science-fiction movie Species was filmed at the depot. Filming-related cosmetic work, including signs and other improvements, helped the depot restoration continue. The Utah Centennial Fund, which receives money from the sale of commemorative license plates, will help pay for roof restoration. The Box Elder Tourism Council helped pay for a metal fence separating the depot from UP's tracks, and Brigham City is helping install a sprinkler system south of the depot.
When the Golden Spike Asociation received the deed to the building, the interior had seen numerous changes--performed mostly after cessation of passenger service. A second room had been built inside the north waiting room, with a false ceiling and plywood walls and floor. Two gas furnaces were on the floor in front of the ticket office, with ducting directed to the north and south waiting rooms. Though originally intended to be the agent's living quarters, the second floor of the depot was never finished as the first agent decided not to live there. The 18 by 34 foot basement, which has a seven-foot ceiling, is used for storage.
Volunteers have nearly completed restoration of the north waiting room, removing nine coats of paint from the walls and the rather unsympathetic alterations made over the years. Wainscoting has been returned to its original stained and varnished appearance. At this writing, the painted pine flooring had not yet been stripped. Light fixtures from an old school have been obtained, replicating the depot's original fixtures, and a modem metal door on the west side will be replaced with a proper wooden one.
The ticket office (which retains its original desk) is currently utilized by the association, while the north waiting room houses a gift shop. Cases holding donated and loaned railroad items are on display there while donated, period luggage adds atmosphere. The south waiting room--to which work is also under way--will eventually become a research library. Windows and eaves are being scraped and repainted. As the depot's wood shingle roof leaks, it will soon be replaced either with wood shakes or asphalt shingles closely resembling wood.
When work is finished, the depot will become a visitors' center for tourists. A new exit from Interstate 15 to downtown Brigham City is under construction; upon its completion, traffic will pass right by the depot. A new asphalt parking lot is planned for the east side of the depot, as the existing one is in bad shape. This will correct drainage problems and stop flooding of the depot's basement during bad rainstorms.
Years ago, a small park south of the depot featured the city's name spelled out in large concrete letters surrounded by flowers. The lettering has been replicated, and the landscaping planned. Someday, the group hopes to replicate the railroad water tank that once stood nearby (the only steam servicing facilities at Brigham City) and that area remains open to do so. The association hopes also to purchase a former fruit warehouse to the south, for additional development.
As the only commercial Brigham City building designed to a Craftsman style, the depot is unique. With its characteristic multiple hip roofs and dormers, and overhanging eaves supported by wooden brackets, the depot forms a centerpiece at the foot of an eight-block descending grade from the county courthouse. Though appearing to be built of hand-dressed stone, it is actually constructed of concrete blocks cast to resemble stone. Over the years, few exterior alterations have taken place. The building is 38 by 98 feet, with a large bay window trackside. The north waiting room was originally for men only, with the south waiting room for women. The ticket office was in the center, and the baggage/express room was to the south of the women's waiting room.
The depot is open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 2 to 6 pm, Saturdays from 12 to 6 pm, or by appointment. Delone Bradford Glover, president of the association, is at the depot most days. For further information, contact the Golden Spike Association, 833 West Forest, Brigham City, UT 84302, or call 801-723-2989.