The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad (D&RG) built the Creede Railroad Depot in 1893 to handle freight and passenger traffic in the historic mining town of Creede. Located on the north end of town near the corner of Loma Avenue and Wall Street, the depot was a central part of Creede’s economy for several decades. At the depot, trains hauled away ore from the mining camps, brought in supplies, and ferried businesspeople and tourists to and from the remote mountain town. Regularly scheduled train traffic continued until 1949, when mining had all but ceased in the area and the railroad abandoned the building.
In 1961 Mineral County turned the depot over to the Creede Historical Society. The local Rotary Club raised funds to rehabilitate the depot, and the historical society has operated a museum in the building since 1964. The depot building was added to the Colorado Register of Historic Places in 1994.
The Denver & Rio Grande in Creede
In 1889 Nicholas Creede made a large silver discovery on East Willow Creek, a tributary of the Rio Grande River in the San Juan Mountains of what is now Mineral County. Prospectors poured in and set up several mining camps in the area. In 1892 one of the larger mining camps was Jimtown, which eventually became present-day Creede (even though at the time there were two other mining camps in the area with the name “Creede”).
The D&RG, meanwhile, had been struggling to make a profit on a line that took tourists up to mineral hot springs at Wagon Wheel Gap, just south of Jimtown. After the silver discovery, miners near Jimtown asked the D&RG to extend its line ten miles up Willow Creek to service the mines. In October 1890, D&RG president David Moffat and two partners purchased Nicholas Creede’s Holy Moses Mine, giving Moffat an interest in building the extension. Moffat tried unsuccessfully to persuade the D&RG board to build the line to Jimtown.
Frustrated with the board’s reluctance to build the new line, Moffat resigned as president in 1891. He, along with fellow Holy Moses investors S.T. Smith and L.E. Campbell, offered to finance the Jimtown extension with their own money and lease it to the D&RG upon completion. The railroad agreed, and work began on the narrow-gauge extension that fall.
To great fanfare, the railroad reached the Holy Moses commissary store in Jimtown on November 22, 1891. Initially, both freight and passengers were picked up and dropped off at a tent surrounded by boxcars and other temporary structures. In February 1892, the Creede Candle reported that “a large [railroad] platform is being built at Jimtown.” The D&RG made its last payment to the line’s original investors in March 1892, and Jimtown was officially incorporated in June. The town would eventually annex the camp to the south, known as “South Creede,” but present-day Creede was still referred to as “Jimtown” until around 1898 or 1899.
What happened to the temporary structures that served as Jimtown’s first railroad depot is unclear. Ed Hargraves, author of the Creede Depot’s National Register of Historic Places nomination form, writes that the temporary depot was destroyed in the fire that ravaged much of Jimtown on June 5, 1892. However, in an earlier publication, historian Cornelius W. Hauck relates that the station master in Jimtown complained about the tent depot’s inadequacies in late May 1892, and that the temporary Jimtown depot was dismantled before the fire.
Whatever the fate of the previous depot structures, Jimtown residents did not have to wait long for another rail station. On March 31, 1893, the Creede Candle reported the completion of “Jimtown’s handsome new depot” and described it as “a roomy, light and comfortable structure” that is “a great convenience to the railroad patrons.”
The new wood frame depot was built in the Late Victorian style, with a cross gable roof. Original plans called for the structure to be approximately eighty-four feet long by twenty-four feet wide, but during construction the length was extended to ninety-six feet. It was built on a north-south alignment and divided into three sections. The railroad agent’s living quarters occupied the smaller north segment; the middle segment held a ticketing booth, waiting area, and storage room; the southern section was the longest, at fifty-seven feet, and was reserved for freight.
With its long, rectangular shape, trackside bay windows, and platforms for both freight and passengers, the 1893 Jimtown/Creede depot resembled other contemporary D&RG depots. Unlike others, however, the Creede depot featured living quarters, and its freight platform was below the level of boxcar doors, which made the job of loading and unloading boxcars much more difficult for employees.
Freight and passenger traffic at the Creede depot remained steady throughout the early twentieth century. In 1910 the railroad added a new daytime train from Denver to Creede, a service that the Salida Record reported had “long been desired by patrons of the line in that section of the state.” Silver mining near Creede had fallen off by that time, but a revival from 1915 to 1918 kept the depot’s freight workers busy.
Closure and Reopening as Museum
Silver mining around Creede slowed to a trickle after 1923, and the passenger rail business declined nationwide with the increasing popularity of automobiles and the creation of highways. Creede shrank during these years, but sporadic mining activity and tourism kept it from becoming a ghost town.
The D&RG ceased passenger service to Creede in 1932, in the throes of the Great Depression. Town residents gathered at the depot to watch the final passenger train depart, while a band on the platform played a tune to mark the end of an era. The depot stopped scheduled freight service in 1949, but ore continued to be hauled out until 1973. The building lay vacant until 1961, when the D&RG officially retired it and donated it to Mineral County.
By that time, the Creede Museum had outgrown its home at the Creede Elks Building and sought to move its museum to the D&RG depot building. Although the county could not provide funds to rehabilitate the depot, it allowed the museum to use the building. With help from the Creede Rotary Club, the museum began restoring the depot in 1962 and opened the museum in 1964. In 1984 the Creede Historical Society was formed, and shortly thereafter the society took over care of the depot museum.
Between 2000 and 2005, the Creede Historical Society secured more than $140,500 in grants from the State Historical Fund to conduct structural assessments and perform exterior and interior renovations to the depot building.
Today, the Creede Museum is open to visitors during the summer months. In addition to exhibits on local history, the museum features a gift shop and a research archive containing thousands of books, manuscripts, photographs, and oral histories. In 2015 the museum set an attendance record with more than 3,000 visitors. In 2016 the Creede Historical Society secured a grant from the local Virginia Christensen fund that paid for new exhibit lighting, as well as a new exhibit, the Bachelor Cabin, which is adjacent to the depot building and is expected to open in 2017.