The Grand Junction Depot is a two-story railroad station built in 1906. Its architecture style is called Italian Renaissance. It was built to serve the new city’s growing railway traffic. It is a downtown landmark. In the late nineteenth century, railroads had an important role in Grand Junction’s early growth. One of the most important was the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad (D&RG).
In later years, a different business called Amtrak took over Grand Junction’s passenger rail service. Amtrak is the rail system run by the United States government. In 1992 Amtrak stopped using the historic depot. In the 2010s, local businesspeople and others with an interest in preserving the historic building decided to update the building for new uses.
The Denver & Rio Grande in Grand Junction
Grand Junction was founded in 1881. Soon afterward, railroad companies wanted to reach the area. They wanted to add tracks west from Denver toward Salt Lake City, and Grand Junction was a handy stopping point along the way. The Denver & Rio Grande Railway rapidly built its new tracks toward Grand Junction. On November 22, 1882, the first train arrived there on the new tracks. The D&RG also wanted many of their office workers and train mechanics to be located in Grand Junction. So the company bought land in Grand Junction next to its tracks. The railroad company soon became one of Grand Junction’s largest employers. The railways helped the city grow by bringing in new residents, businesses, and tourists. Thanks to the railroad, Grand Junction became the most important city in western Colorado.
Growing City Gets New Depot
The first railroad depot in Grand Junction was a simple log building near the tracks. In early 1884, it was replaced by a two-story Queen Anne style depot that was one of the largest buildings in town. In the early 1900s, many farmers began to grow sugar beets, which were used to make sugar. Lots of people moved to Grand Junction because of the sugar beet activity. The amount of people living in Grand Junction doubled from 3,500 to 7,000 in just five years. Four railroad companies were in business in Grand Junction, including the D&RG and the Colorado Midland. They soon needed a larger depot to handle the growing amount of trains for passengers and cargo.
Construction on the new depot began on April 6, 1905, near the old depot. The new depot was completed in September 1906. It cost $60,000. It was located in the downtown area. The depot building was designed by architect Henry J. Schlack. The two-story structure was made of white brick with terra cotta decorations and a red tile roof. The second floor had arched stained-glass windows. This architecture style is called Italian Renaissance.
Inside, the depot had a large oval waiting room. It was considered one of the finest in the region. It was sixty-six feet long, thirty-three feet wide, and had a twenty-two-foot high ceiling. The woodwork was solid oak. From the main waiting room, passengers could get to the ticket office, a small sitting area with a fireplace, and large, fancy restrooms. Upstairs, there were business offices for railroad workers and telegraph workers. There was also a one-story section on the end of the main building. This section contained the baggage room and offices for two cargo shipping companies.
During the twentieth century, the Grand Junction Depot’s original interior was slowly altered over many years. The woodwork in the waiting room was painted, parts of the large restrooms were converted to offices, and the small sitting area became a storage room. In the 1920s, the waiting room’s high ceiling was lowered to make room above it for more second-floor offices. Even with these many changes, the depot became a local landmark because of its size, stylish architecture, and its interesting, angled position on the land.
The building was a symbol for the important D&RG company, which employed many local workers. In the 1950s, the trains were changed from steam locomotives to diesel engines. Fewer workers were needed to operate and repair the new engines. Yet even with fewer workers, the D&RG was still an important company. After World War II, people and goods increasingly traveled on trucks and airplanes. But the railroads were still important because they hauled cargo for the area’s growing coal, oil, and gas development. They also still needed plenty of workers to maintain their trains and rails in western Colorado and eastern Utah.
For many decades, the depot continued to serve passenger trains, too. A train called the Zephyr was operated by the D&RG. It became the last long-distance passenger train in the United States that was owned and operated by a private company. In 1983 the D&RG gave up the route because of a lack of passengers. This passenger route was taken over by the government-run Amtrak train system. To get more riders, Amtrak bought new trains. It started making daily trips that passed through Grand Junction on the route between Denver and Salt Lake City. The number of passengers did increase. In 1992 Amtrak moved its passenger depot from the historic 1906 building to a different building nearby. Amtrak said that the historic depot was unsafe because it had not been kept in good repair.
The same year that Amtrak moved out, the 1906 depot was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Local business people and others with an interest in saving the historic building replaced the building’s roof to prevent further damage. The money for the new roof came from a State Historical Fund grant. People tried to think of new ideas for how to use the historic depot, but nothing worked out. The building remained empty in the 1990s and 2000s.
In 2010 Colorado Preservation, Inc. named the depot building as one of the state’s Most Endangered Places. They did this to encourage interest in having it repaired and updated. Since then, Colorado Preservation has worked with Friends of the Grand Junction Railroad Depot and the city of Grand Junction. Together they developed plans for more repairs to the building so it could be used as a train station and shops.