Over a 25-year period from 1913 until 1938, thousands of passengers passed through the Santa Fe Depot in Strong City. Since then, the depot has been used little and deteriorated over time. Windows are boarded, plaster has fallen, paint has peeled, and the tile roof is in poor condition.
The once handsome landmark on the Santa Fe main line will soon get a second chance to serve the people of Chase County. The restoration of the Strong City Depot has quietly progressed for many years. In November, contractors’ bids for the restoration project were received, opened, and awarded. Soon crews will start transforming the historic building back to its former self to preserve the important piece of local history.
“The construction phase of the current project will start in March 2014 when the weather will permit exterior construction work,” said Mike Schmidt, of Schmidt Engineering Consultants Inc. “The current project will take approximately 10 months, which means the project will be completed about one year from now.”
The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad Depot in Strong City was built in 1913 for a cost of $20,000. It included two passenger waiting rooms, a ticket office, telegrapher’s area, main office, and baggage room. The west end was used as a freight office.
The depot closed in 1938 and for the last 70 years has served as Santa Fe offices and railroad storage. After several years of negotiation, BNSF donated the building to Strong City in 2006. In 2007, the depot was listed on the National Register of Historical Places, and plans to restore it started in earnest.
“The goal of the project is to save the depot from further deterioration and provide a facility that is useful to the city of Strong City and the community,” Schmidt said.
Plans for the depot include a visitor’s center with public restrooms and possibly a local heritage museum with railroad and rodeo memorabilia. Office space, a large community room, and a meeting room are also designed for the building.
According to Schmidt, the restoration plan calls for repairing the roof and replacing the clay tile roofing material as well as replacing the flat roofs at the east and west ends of the building. The exterior of the depot will also see repairs to windows, doors, gutters, downspouts and the brick masonry.
“The interior of the building will be restored to the original rooms that were in the original plan,” Schmidt said. “Part of the project has been to demolish non-historic partitions that had been added by BNSF over the years for their use after there was no longer a need for a depot.”
Extensive remodeling of the restrooms to meet the current American Disabilities Act standards, new electrical services, interior lighting and a new heat and air conditioning system will be installed. Schmidt said that because of funding constraints, the project does not include interior restoration of the old baggage and freight rooms in the west end of the building.
The restoration project is estimated to cost $570,000. To finance the project, Strong City applied for and received a Transportation Enhancement Grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation. The grant will pay for 80 percent of the restoration cost up to $456,000, with the city providing 20 percent. The city’s part is being provided through donation and grants from various sources, and through Historic Tax Credits. No local tax money is being used to fund the project.
“The city has received local donations in the amount of $42,094, also the purchase of authentic roof tiles was a local donation and $10,000 from the Wiedemann Foundation, Historic Tax Credits up to $125,000,” said Shari DeWitt, city clerk for Strong City. “The Jones Foundation previously awarded $30,000 for the project in 2008, but due to the time lapse, the city had to resubmit an updated proposal. Their board will meet this month.”
When completed, the Strong City Depot will not only serve as a historical example of the city’s past life, but a sound structure the community can use for the foreseeable future. According to the Chase County Chamber of Commerce, Strong City is being considered as a possibility for an Amtrak stop on an expanded passenger rail route between Kansas City and Oklahoma City. If that were to happen, the depot would once again see passenger trains stopping and people arriving and departing. Having a newly restored depot could help make passenger service a reality in the future.