Whether they were made from wood or bricks, train depot buildings were an integral part of the landscape of many Kansas towns for nearly a century.
J. Harvey Koehn, a volunteer with the Great Plains Transportation Museum, will speak on "Railroad Depots of McPherson County and its Adjacent Counties" at 2 p.m. April 6 at the McPherson Museum, 1111 E. Kansas Ave. Hosted by the McPherson County Historical Society, the presentation is free and open to the public.
"The easiest and fastest way to travel was by rail," Koehn said. "You could take a horse and wagon, but if it was muddy or if it was cold, it was better, safer and warmer to travel by train."
A few depots — like Wichita's Union Station — served more than one railroad line. Other depots, like the one in Beaumont, were junction points.
"Beaumont was an important place for the Frisco at one time because not only did it go from there into Wichita, it also went from there south into Oklahoma, too," Koehn said.
Not only did depots serve as transportation hubs, they also were often the center for information.
"A depot was a portal for the community to the outside world," Koehn said. "...If some important news came in, it came in by telegram."
Koehn will show historic and current pictures of depots in bigger cities like McPherson and Newton in addition to smaller stops like Aulne and Sand Creek. Some were simple wooden buildings; others were elaborate structures made of brick that featured spires and elaborate landscaping.
"Railroads had their own architecture and own standards for their depots," Koehn said. "...If you look at depots long enough, you can begin to identify which railroad they belonged to just by the architecture."
Some train depots, like the Frisco depot in Leon and the Rock Island depot in Kechi, were two stories tall in order to provide a living space for the station agent and his family.
"There are some towns in Kansas where the streets angle instead of being laid out north to south and east to west. That's because when the railroad came through, streets were built away from the depot and if the railroad came in at an angle, the streets went away at an angle," Koehn explained.
Koehn will also discuss the history behind formation of some of the railroad logos. The Rock Island logo's shape is similar to that of a buffalo hide; while Frisco's resembles that of the raccoon hide one station agent had tacked to the outside of his depot in order to make a little side income, according to legend.
In nearly every picture where passengers could be seen, men wore suits, hats and ties.
"Whether you were traveling by plane or by train in those days, you dressed up," Koehn said.
As depots were put out of service, many were dismantled. Several have been moved and turned into homes or storage facilities. Some depots now house businesses or serve as community centers. Still others, like the Santa Fe depots in Sedgwick and Halstead and the Missouri Pacific depot in Moundridge were incorporated into the town's museums. Marion's Santa Fe depot is now the home of the town's library.
While some depots survive, only the ones in Newton and Hutchinson still serve passenger trains.
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