Union Pacific Train Depot (West Yellowstone, Montana)

Historic View of the Union Pacific Train Depot. Now houses the Museum of the Yellowstone.

A Town Filled With History

As most of you know, West Yellowstone is a town full of history.  All you have to do is take a little time and do a little research and you might just be amazed at what you will learn about the present day town of West Yellowstone.

Current view of the Depot.

My main point of research for the history of some of the buildings in town is the Yellowstone Historic Center.  If you are visiting our town I would strongly encourage you to take the time to visit the local Museum.  Here you will not only get a glimpse of the history of our town and the area but you will meet some of the nicest people who are more than willing to share their knowledge with you.

The buildings that encompass The Oregon Short Line Historic District are The Union Pacific Depot (now the home of the Museum), The Union Pacific Dining Lodge (still in use today), The oil and generator building, The warehouse, The water tower, The dormitories,  The baggage building (currently the West Yellowstone Police Department), The Stagecoach Shelter and tThe Union Pacific Pylon.

The first history lesson from me concerns the Union Pacific Depot which is the oldest remaining structure in the Oregon Short Line Historic District.

The first structure that served as the depot was built as a temporary structure in 1908.  In 1909 this temporary structure was replaced by the current building.  The building was designed by the Union Pacific Railroad’s Engineering Office.

Historic blueprints.

The structure was designed as a single-story hip-roofed building and was constructed of dimension wood framing, brick, concrete  and quarry-faced native rhyolite stone.  The stone was acquired from the nearby railroad right-of-ways.  The main portion of the building measures 117 by 44 feet.  The East and West wings are 71 by 33 and 51 x 33 respectively.  Shortly after the construction was completed the Union Pacific described it as “built of stone, very substantial, spacious, and artistic.  It is electric heated by steam, and provides large waiting rooms, an individual dressing room for ladies, two large fireplaces, drinking fountains, etc.  In it are the usual ticket and Pullman offices and the office of the Monida and Yellowstone Stage Co.  The trains approached on the South side while the stages receive and deliver passengers under the porte-cochere on the North side” (from the Union Pacific Collection of the Yellowstone Historic Center.)

Passengers would enter through the double doors on the South side into either the women’s or men’s waiting rooms.  Each of these two rooms boasted massive stone fireplaces for heating the rooms with wood.

The waiting areas had wooden benches and a large table with chairs where passengers could write their  letter and postcards to be sent to the folks back home or just to help them remember all they had seen and experienced on their adventure to Yellowstone.

The ticket counter also served as the office for the Monida and Yellowstone Stage Company as well as the telegraph office, a vestibule and a news stand.  This separated the two waiting rooms.  There were two sets of double doors which led from the vestibule to the coach/bus loading platform.

Though they were an unusual feature for a depot, there were showers in the men’s and ladies  dressing rooms which occupied the “wings” of the depot building.  The showers were necessary for the arriving passengers who wanted to change from their “train” clothes into their “stagecoach” traveling apparel.  Local vendors had coats, hats and dusters available to rent for park travel.  When the passengers returned from their visit to the park they could make use of the showers to get the trail dust washed off and then change into their “good” travel clothing for the return trip to Idaho and Salt Lake City.  So now it becomes apparent, to me at least, why the showers were such a good idea.  Today you travel into the park and return to your hotel or cabin and there you can wash off the trail dust and get into some clean clothing for the remainder of your day.

The East “wing” of the depot originally served as the storage area for passengers’ excess baggage and provided a safe place for them to store it while they visited the park.  By the 1920’s the number of visitors to the park had increased to the point where it was necessary to construct a building to house the luggage.  At that time the Baggage Building was constructed. (more about that in a later post).  After the construction of the Baggage Building, the East wing was converted to a Women’s Dressing Room.

It was during this time the North porte-cochere was extended to cover the busses and provide room for the ever increasing number of travelers.  The original narrow porch resulted in a crowded line-up waiting for the stages and then the busses.  The concrete platform along the track was also extended to the West to accommodate the longer trains.

From 1923 until 1972 the building remained pretty much the same. In 1970 the railroad deeded the depot to the Town of West Yellowstone.   In 1972 there were major changes made throughout the depot in order to convert its use to a privately operated museum.  One significant change was the removal fo the women’s dressing rooms and toilets in the East wing along with the removal of some of the dressing room partitions in the West wing.  However, many of the men’s restroom facilities remain to this day.

Changes would occur again when in 2000 the Yellowstone Historic Center leased the depot from the Town of West Yellowstone.  They spearheaded major repair and restoration projects, including replacing the shingle roof, restoring interior features such as the ticket counter, repairing the ceilings and upgrading the electrical services and lines.

And that concludes my history of this particular building.  Stay tuned for posts regarding the other historical buildings in the Oregon Short Line Historic District.

Photos courtesy of the Museum of the Yellowstone (Yellowstone Historic Center).