Union Station Denver

The History of Denver's Union Station

The very first train station in Denver was built in 1868 to serve the new Denver Pacific Railway, which connected Denver to the main transcontinental line at Cheyenne, Wyoming. By 1875, there were four different railroad stations, making passenger transfers between different railroad lines inconvenient. To remedy this issue, the Union Pacific Railroad proposed creating one central "Union Station" to combine the various operations. In February 1880, the owners of the four lines (the Union Pacific, the Denver & Rio Grande Western, the Denver, South Park & Pacific, and the Colorado Central) agreed to build a station at 17th and Wynkoop Streets. Architect A. Taylor of Kansas City was hired to develop the plans and the station opened in May 1881.
Union Depot 1880 larger image
  Union Depot Denver 1881 larger image
Union Station Denver 1889
Union Depot Denver 1889 larger Image
Union Depot Denver Colorado 1891
Union Depot Denver 1889 larger image
City Hall War Denver 1894 larger image

A fire that started in the women's restroom in 1894 destroyed the central portion of the 1881 depot. The Kansas City architectural firm of Van Brunt & Howe was hired to design a larger replacement depot in the Romanesque Revival style. Both the 1881 and 1894 depots included a tall central clock tower with four clock faces.

On July 4, 1906, a large arch was dedicated in front of the station in order to provide a symbolic threshold for travelers entering and leaving the city. Constructed at a cost of $22,500 with 70 tons of steel and over 2,000 light bulbs, the arch originally featured the word "Welcome" on both sides. The elevation facing 17th Street was changed to "Mizpah", a Hebrew word expressing an emotional bond between separated people, and used as a farewell to people leaving Denver.

Union Depot Denver CO after fire March 165 1894
Union Depot Terminal after the fire, March 16, 1894 larger image
1894 Fire Damage Aftermath larger image
Uptown side from 16th St. viaduct circa 1910 larger image
In 1912, the original Union Depot partnership was dissolved and replaced by the Denver Terminal Railway Company, representing the then-major operators of the station (the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific, the Colorado & Southern, the Union Pacific, and the Denver & Rio Grande Western railways). The new partnership decided to demolish and rebuild the central portion of the station to handle the increasing passenger traffic. The new central portion, designed by Denver architects Gove & Walsh, was built in the Beaux-Arts style and opened in 1914.
Snow storm on December 1913 larger image
Interior of the new Union Station Denver circa 1914 larger image
A crowd gathers to view the Liberty Bell, 1915. larger image
Exterior of the new Union Station Denver circa 1915 larger image
The American Railway Express Agency's office 1917 larger image
By the 1920s and 1930s, over 80 trains served the station daily with notable dignitaries such as Queen Marie of Romania, Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt arriving to Denver through the station. As a result of growing passenger service, the Mizpah Arch in front of the station was deemed a traffic hazard and was torn down in 1931.
Train derailed at Union Station Denver circa 1920 larger image

Although World War II saw a surge in rail traffic, the latter half of the 20th century saw a sharp decline in service for Union Station and countless other train stations in the United States as competition began to grow from automobiles and airlines.

For the first time in 1958, passenger traffic at Stapleton International Airportexceeded that of Union Station. It was during this period that the orange "Union Station: Travel by Train" signs were placed on both sides of the building to advertise intercity rail travel.

Amtrak eventually became the sole provider of rail service through the station, operating only two trains daily between Chicago and the Bay Area with the California Zephyr. From the 1980s to the early 2000s, RTD, the City and County of Denver, the original site owner Denver Union Terminal Railway Corporation, and several other entities made periodic improvements such as accommodating an RTD bus lane to access Market Street Station from I-25 and a light rail connection to the C Line. The station also served special trains such as the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad's Ski Train, which operated until the end of the winter of 2008–2009; in September 2009, plans were announced to revive the service as a special limited route beginning in December, but this fell through due to insurance problems.

Until the grand renovation, the station served the annual Cheyenne Frontier Days Train, which runs between Denver and Cheyenne, Wyoming for the Frontier Days Rodeo event. The popular excursion train has since been based at a site near the Denver Coliseum.

The front of Union Station Denver circa 1940 larger image