by Nancy Christofferson
WALSENBURG- On Oct. 22, 1926, construction of Walsenburg’s new Union Depot was begun. It was a long time coming!
The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad had built into, and through, Walsenburg in 1876. Not long after, a passenger depot was built, and a separate building to handle freight. In 1896, the Union Pacific, Denver and Gulf railroad came into town. It was known simply as the Gulf. On Jan. 1, 1899, the UPDG became known as the Colorado and Southern Railway. This company, too, had its own depot and freight office.
The D&RG depot was said to be a block east of Main Street. The freight office was farther west where many retail businesses of town owned warehouses for their own goods. The depot burned down in September 1920, and a new freight office was built on that site.
The C&S had a 24 by 64 foot, pressed brick with stone trimmings passenger depot that was enlarged in 1903. It was west of the D&RG’s. The two railroad companies also had many other buildings along the route, including water tanks, coal chutes, stockyards, roundhouses and various maintenance buildings. They cooperated in building a watch tower at the Main Street crossing in 1897. It was manned by a flagman who warned traffic of coming trains. Before that, trains had to stop entirely at Main Street and be “flagged over” when no pedestrian or wagon traffic was in the way. In the early days, the two railroad’s tracks were not so close together, and a hotel stood on the south side of the tracks, and a church on the north. Across the street were a feed business and sheds. In other words, those proceeding along Main Street had to rely on hearing to know if a train were coming, because the tracks were obscured behind buildings. More than one person walked off the porch of the hotel and straight in front of an engine.
The hotel burned down on Christmas Eve 1906, and was not rebuilt. Some years later the tracks were realigned, the buildings across the street removed, and visibility became less of an issue. It was not until the 1920s warning signs and lights were installed on Main.
As early as the ‘teens the two railroads began discussing building a union depot that would be closer to downtown. In September 1925 a site was chosen between Main and Russell streets, making it convenient to businesses as well as the courthouse and hotels. It would cost $30,000. Bids were invited, and 14 were received. The foundation would be done before winter.
Well, one year later plans were announced it would be built of red brick with a green tile roof, and measure 32 by 119 feet. Then, in October 1926, excavation actually was started. The Walsenburg World dryly noted that some people had been waiting for this day since 1916.
October in Huerfano County is not an ideal time to begin a building project, and this one was shut down by snow and cold in December 1926. The brick walls were not yet completed.
1927 saw a flurry of work, and construction crews hustled to complete the building as quickly as possible. Despite the depot’s not being completely ready, the first train to stop there was on Thursday, March 10, 1927.
The depot was finished and opened in August. Ever present, the paper reported 60 persons had posted letters at the union station for the first night collection on Aug. 8. Passenger trains from this depot could travel north and south, and, with connections in other cities, west and east. They could even get to Alamo and other coal camps northwest of the city, via the Loma Branch.
The depot saw many celebrities and dignitaries pass through, and some even stopped.
In 1930 the D&RG and C&S signed an agreement assigning responsibility for the depot to each in three year increments.
Passenger service in and out of Walsenburg ceased in 1966. The freight business continued but when the Burlington and Northern bought the D&RG in the early ‘80s, use of the depot diminished. Burlington in 1985 announced it had no use for the building and would tear it down.
A group called Walsenburg Downtown Development had been organized in 1978 by 31 business people. Its immediate goals had been to beautify and modernize the downtown area where, at the time, there were no pedestrian crossings, no allowances for the handicapped, inadequate lighting, etc. WDD was incorporated, applied for and received grants, and obtained a one mill levy from City Council to maintain sidewalks, gutters and curbs.
By 1984 WDD had completed the west side of the 500 block of Main, adding new curbings, guttering, sidewalks that were wheelchair accessible, and planting trees. Plans were to continue improving all of Main between Fourth and Ninth, and then tackle the side streets.
With Burlington’s announcement to raze the depot, WDD members swung into action. They obtained its use and then purchased the old Ralph Levy property adjacent to tear down the old buildings and make a parking lot. The depot itself, WDD said, would be a visitors’ center.
WDD spent something around $500,000 to remodel and modernize the depot, and to form the parking area. Through cooperation with another entity of the time, Economic Development, the building and grounds became a convenient and comfortable spot for travelers. The Huerfano County Chamber of Commerce, which had been long-term residents of the building at Fifth and Main, moved to the newly remodeled depot to man the tourists’ center. Their former home became the Walsenburg Mining Museum, and, most recently, the home of the Huerfano World Journal.