Saturday, December 12, 2015

What's Was New in 1872: The Depot & Depot Hotel

This is the second installment of a very long article that details construction projects in Chariton during 1872, published in The Chariton Patriot of Jan. 1, 1873. The first installment, covering the Mallory Opera Block, is here.

Construction of the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad across southern Iowa has been stalled at Ottumwa by the Civil War, but began anew when the war ended. The first train, reportedly designated "The Abraham Lincoln," arrived in Chariton during July of 1867, pushing a boxcar that became the basis for a cobbled-together depot for the city.

By 1872, the main line had been extended west to the Missouri River to connect with other lines that carried passengers and goods farther west and both the south branch, connecting Chariton and Allerton, and the north branch, connecting Chariton and Indianola, had been constructed. Chariton now was a divisional headquarters for the B.&M.R. So --- a new depot was called for.

The new depot was constructed beside the original depot and served Chariton until 1942, when it was demolished and a sleek new depot constructed on its footprint. The 1942 depot. opened in December of that year --- 70 years later --- still stands, although encased in a large gabled metal building that now serves as a Burlington Northern & Santa Fe maintenance headquarters.

Remember when you read this that The Patriot's editor was touring the structure in December of 1872 with a construction subcontractor --- not a railroad official --- and that the building was incomplete. There are some variances between his description of the building and the final layout. But you'll get the general idea:


By the kindness of Mr. W.M.A. Young, the foreman of the woodwork, we were shown through this building, and proceed to give our readers a description of the same; the erection of which in connection with the Opera House marks an era in the history of our young city.

The size of the building is exactly 189 feet and 10 inches long by 40 feet wide and two stories high, and is situated near the old depot, and between the tracks of the main line of the B. & M.R.R. and the Chariton Branch. It is substantially built of brick, upon a stone foundation and is entirely surrounded by a shed or porch 13 (feet wide) and a platform 16 feet wide. The lower story is 18 feet high, and is divided up as follows:

Beginning at the south end there is a wash room (the baggage room actually was at the south end of the depot, at least by 1883), next the ladies waiting room which is 40 by about 40 feet, and is provided with a wash room and saloon. We next come to the gentlemen's waiting room, which is some larger than the ladies, and is to be provided with a number of wash bowls for the accommodation of travelers. A lunch room is also to be arranged in this apartment. The ticket office is so situated as to open into both of these waiting rooms and is a neat little apartment protruding outside the wall, at the same time forming a handsome bay window, on the east side.

Next north of the gentlemen's room is the dining hall, the largest room in the building, 40x55 feet inside, and still north of this are five rooms intended to be used as kitchens, provision rooms, &c., &c., underneath of which is a cellar 38x40.

Passing to the second story, either by the stairs from the gents waiting room or by another from the dining hall, we find 28 rooms of various sizes, which will  be used for sleeping and for parlors, and also three for offices for various purposes. This story is 14 feet high, and all the rooms are large and comfortable.

There are in all 74 windows, 30 below, each composed of 9 panes of glass 24x60 inches, and 44 above of 4 panes each, 24x54 inches. The building is to be heated with stoves, and is also well ventilated.

The roof is of shingles laid in mortar, the design of this being two-fold, to keep out the snow and also to render it less liable to fire. On the roof is to be an observatory 10 feet wide running the whole length of the building and surrounded by a balustrade. The observatory is accessible from the second story by means of a flight of stairs, and will make a delightful promenade, from whence a fine view of the town and beautiful surrounding country may be had, and the lungs inflated with Iowa's pure and exhilerating atmosphere.

The work was commenced on this building in August last, and there has been from 15 to 50 men engaged almost ever since. It is expected to be finished in about one month when it will be immediately occupied and the old building torn down and removed, although we would not object to its remaining as we can better value the new by comparing it with the old one.

It is claimed, and so far as we know conceded, that this is the best building of the kind in the state; but let this be as it may, it (is) a big thing for Chariton, and speaks volumes for its future. If any one has any doubt that Chariton is destined to become the best country town in Southern Iowa, let him come and see our Railroad Hotel and Depot and be convinced of his mistake. Approximate cost, $40,000.


The crude floor plan here, based upon a plan shown on the 1883 Sanborn Fire Map of Chariton, gives an idea of how the depot was arranged during that year --- an arrangement affirmed by an article in The Chariton Leader of July 14, 1942, looking back fondly on the old building. Here's a portion of that article:

There were 36 rooms in the hotel, which was discontinued only when the Hotel Charitone was constructed in 1923. The floor plan of the station during these golden years was with the baggage room where it is now in the south end of the building. Then came the women's waiting room, the ticket office and the men's waiting room.

There were double doors leading from the men's waiting room into a long narrow hotel lobby with chairs around the wall. The lobby ran east and west with the desk and stairs to the rooms being on the east. Double doors led from the lobby to the dining room.

A lunch counter ran for a time in a circular manner through the women's waiting room, past the ticket office and into the men's waiting room. Later, this was moved into the dining room.

All Chariton folks who wanted to dine in style on Sunday went to the hotel dining room, which had the reputation of serving enormous pieces of pie and excellent food. Many of the trains carried no diners and the trains stopped here to give passengers and crews time to eat.

At the time Chariton was a division point with freights and passenger trains being made up here. Chariton was populated with railroad families.

Residents recalled today that one of the busy times used to be when the No. 4 brought the Des Moines newspapers (you'll recall there were no radios and automobiles then) and both the south and north branches made connections with it. At that time it wasn't unusual to find the platform crowded and only standing room in the two waiting rooms, which had far greater seating capacity than now.

One individual remarked today that with the two trains emptying their passengers for No. 4, with the persons getting off and on from Chariton and with the persons down to get the papers or to eat their evening meal --- No. 4 was due at that time about 5 o'clock --- it would make an onlooker think there was a convention in town.


Leader editor Will Allender reminisced in his July 21 column, giving a better idea of the state of the old depot when it was replaced. Although the depot still was a busy place, transportation patterns had changed and the Hotel Charitone, new and modern, had opened during 1923 on the square, midway between the C.B.&Q. (Burlington) Depot and the newer Rock Island Depot. 


Chariton is to have a new Burlington station. The plans are drawn and bids are to be taken immediately with the idea of starting work the first of next month. Thus the road is keeping a promise which has been made in recent years only to later be broken, and the old station, now three score and ten years old, will be torn down to make room for the new structure. Superintendent C.J. Connett, of Ottumwa, is just as happy about the new depot as are the people of Chariton.

The old depot was a magnificent structure in the 1870s and a flood of interesting local history was made within its walls. At one time it was Chariton's leading hotel. When this writer came to Chariton 22 years ago it was just about the best place in town to buy a meal. Local peple went there in pairs and in parties and when the time wasn't pressing, the landlord came over and sat at the table and discussed the affairs of those days in which all were interested.

But the passing of the hotel when the Charitone was erected sort of took the life out of the old depot. The upper floor windows were boarded up and the lower floor, which had been the dining room and hotel quarters, was closed. Later one of the waiting rooms was also closed and the large building used only a smal portion of its space that the public might visit.

If moving pictures had been taken of the interesting events occurring in the old depot, with shots of the great and near great who visited it, what wonderful scenes might be screened.

Tthe new station will be ready for occpancy, the road expects, late next fall. If the new structure serves as long as the present one the new building's successor will be constructed in the year A.D. 2012. 

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