The Old and the New Illinois Central Depots


The original Illinois Central Depot in Rock Rapids was built in 1887. J.A. Rogers, a Rock Rapids native, was one of the carpenters that helped in the construction. The depot was yellow, trimmed in brown. As was the case of depots built during that period of our history, the depot agent's family had their living quarters in the upper levels of the building, making it convenient for the depot agent to attend to his duties as the trains passed through at any hour of the day or night. This old building could tell a lot of history as it watched the town grow, welcomed many newcomers to the pioneer town, as witnessed many a fond farewell. In 1943, after fifty-six years of service, it was condemned because of the need for extensive repairs and was demolished to make way for a new depot building.

The old Illinois Central Depot was impressive in appearance but not quite as ornate as the Rock Island Depot, which now serves as our depot museum for the Lyon County Historical Society. I have been told that the railroads and the new town sites that they served were eager to construct an eye-catching building as that was the first thing that the people riding the passenger trains would see as they got off the train, and it was important to give a good impression.

The depots usually had separate waiting rooms for the men and for the women. Keeping the rooms and the depot agent's office clean was usually the depot agent's wife's job. There was an Illinois Central Park in Rock Rapids although I couldn't readily locate the exact location, but my guess would be that it was approximately where Kerns Electric is now located; this would be just north of the site of the depot. I recall seeing pictures of it and the beautiful landscaped flowerbeds. At one time, there were a lot of flowers planted around the Rock Island Depot also. There are still English lilacs and wild blackberry lilies blooming occasionally along the riverbank and at the approaches of the Rock Island Bridge that crosses the park. The bridge is on the National Historic Registry.

On February 2, 1943, construction engineers and Illinois Central officials were in Rock Rapids to inspect the new depot, which was just completed. The brick veneered building was started in the fall after the old wooden building was demolished. The new building was much more utilitarian in nature as the days of the upstairs apartment for the depot agent and his family were gone. The new depot was used strictly for business.

With the demise of the Illinois Central Railroad, the depot building was sold to the City of Rock Rapids and was converted to a storage unit.

Provided by Evelyn Halverson
Transcribed by Roseanna Zehner


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