The Limon Railroad Depot was built in 1910 on a triangular piece of land bounded by the intersection of Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad (CRI&P) and Union Pacific Railroad (UP) lines. The interchange made Limon, in Lincoln County, an important railroad hub, and the town’s depot remained in active use until 1980. One of only three Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific depots in Colorado that remain intact at their original location, the building is now part of the Limon Heritage Museum and Railroad Park.
Hub City of the High Plains
Limon has a long history as one of the main transportation hubs on Colorado’s eastern plains. The town started to take shape in the late 1880s, when the CRI&P (often known as the Rock Island) chose the site as a division point where the single line would split into two branches, one to Denver and the other to Colorado Springs. The division point lay along an existing UP line to Denver, making it a major railroad interchange.
In March 1888 the Rock Island started building lines east and west from its division point, which was called Limon’s Camp after construction foreman John Limon. Passenger service started in November. Limon’s Camp became Limon Station, where the Rock Island established a rail yard and shops, including a ten-stall roundhouse, the Grier House hotel and dining room, and a one-story union depot serving both the Rock Island and UP lines.
Limon Station became an important shipping depot for farmers and ranchers in the area, and the town of Limon began to take shape north of the railroad interchange. In the early 1900s the town grew quickly, increasing in population from 75 in 1900 to 600 by 1910. The railroad industry played a vital role in the town’s growth; at its height, the Rock Island employed several hundred workers in Limon.
On June 28, 1910, a large fire at the Limon rail yards destroyed several freight cars, an oil storage building, and the existing depot. A new depot was built later that year on the triangular piece of land bounded by the Rock Island and Union Pacific lines. The one-story, wood-frame building was similar in many ways to other early twentieth-century Rock Island combination depots—that is, depots that served both passenger and freight traffic. Most of these rectangular depots had a clearly defined “town” side and “track” side. Inside, the passenger waiting room occupied one end and baggage and freight service the other end, with a ticket office and station agent in the middle.
The unique setting of the Limon Depot, which had rail lines on all sides, required several modifications to the standard plan. The depot had no “town” side, since it served Rock Island lines on both main sides. In addition, the Limon station agent’s office had to be located in the building’s southwest corner so that the agent could see trains coming and going along three separate lines—one Union Pacific (on the west side) and two Rock Island (on the north and south sides). As a result, the rest of the depot’s interior layout also had to be rearranged, with the waiting room in the center and baggage and freight on the eastern end. With its new depot, Limon boomed as a railroad hub in the 1910s and early 1920s.
During the Great Depression, the Rock Island reduced its workforce in Limon, but in 1936 the railroad launched an ambitious modernization program that generated many new jobs. In Limon the depot received new doors and windows, a smooth brick veneer, and cement-asbestos siding. The modernization effort included a new diesel-powered passenger train called the Rocky Mountain Rocket, which started service in 1939. The train arrived early every morning in Limon, where a crew split it into separate sections headed for Denver and Colorado Springs. In the afternoon those two sections returned to Limon and were joined together again for the trip east.
Limon’s railroad industry boomed during World War II, as trains full of troops and materials passed through on the way to Camp Carson and Peterson Field in Colorado Springs. After the war, rail traffic slowed. Passenger and freight traffic was shifting to cars, trucks, and airplanes. In 1949 the Rocky Mountain Rocket lost the contract to carry mail between Limon and Colorado Springs. The Rock Island started to cut back its presence in Limon, moving or razing most of its buildings by the middle of the 1950s. Eventually the depot was the only railroad building left. In 1966 the Rocky Mountain Rocket stopped running, marking the end of Rock Island passenger service in Limon, and in 1980 the Rock Island stopped freight service as well. Union Pacific erected a metal shed to handle its operations, and the railroad depot started to fall into disrepair.
In 1989 a tourist train called the Limon Twilight Limited started to use the depot as a base for its brief trips along the former Rock Island railroad line. After the Limon Twilight Limited stopped running in 1991, the Mid-States Port Authority donated the depot to the town of Limon. The Limon Heritage Society began to restore the depot, which became the centerpiece of the Limon Heritage Museum and Railroad Park. The building houses the Houtz Native American Collection, a “Trains on the Plains” exhibit, and other local history artifacts. In 2003 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The depot is no longer used for railroad operations, but it remains at the center of rail traffic in Limon. It still has a Union Pacific track to the west and a Genesee & Wyoming (formerly Rock Island) track to the north. The Rock Island’s old southern branch to Colorado Springs was torn up in 1994. On the south side of the depot, a short section of this line remains intact and is used to store several old railroad cars.