The Full Story of
Charles City's Milwaukee Road Depot
Built in 1912 to replace the original depot, this building became the entrance to Charles City It was the entrance to the city at one time. Many people came and went via The Depot. Then the passenger trains went away. And then the railroads changed. Soon the depot sat forlorn and forgotten, destine to see it's fate come crashing down.
Until it was saved.
The Milwaukee Road reached Charles City in 1869 as part of building a line across northern Iowa from the Mississippi River to South Dakota. This route was eventually expanded west to for the mainline between Chicago and Rapid City.
The original depot was a wood structure deemed inadequate to serve the needs of the growing community. Charles City was the headquarters of the Hart-Parr Company which built farm tractors and actually coined the marketing word "tractor" to refer to this machinery. The company eventually became the Oliver tractor company. In the early 1910's, the city fathers were pressing the Milwaukee Road to build a substantial new depot and one that would be of brick construction.
The new 2700 square foot structure was completed in 1912. It served as the front door to the city through the 1950's with two passenger trains daily to and from Chicago. The main train on the route was named the Sioux which traveled between Rapid City and Chicago. The second train was the Marquette that traveled to Chicago from Mason City. Many older citizens remember seeing brothers off to WWII and Korea at the station. The last passenger train, the Sioux left in April, 1960.
The Later Years
In 1968, Charles City was subjected to an F5 tornado which destroyed most of the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. The depot was one of the few major structured to survive. Aerial photos of the aftermath show that the depot narrowly avoided destruction as the tornado's path passed within 300ft. Incidentally, this was the same tornado that destroyed the overhead electrification of the Charles City Western - then operating at the Iowa Terminal - which lead them to switch to diesel motive power. Learn more about the Charles City Western on its dedicated history page!
After being repaired from the tornado damage, the railroad continued to used the depot as a base for the Maintenance of Way department until 2011 when it was deemed surplus. In 2018, Canadian Pacific announced to the city that they were seriously considering plans to demolish the depot. It was at this time, mere weeks after the creation of the American Passenger Train History Museum, that citizens approached APTHM asking if the depot could be incorporated into the developing train museum. Thus started the depot's journey to being saved.
Saving the Depot
Canadian Pacific was willing to donate the depot to our museum but required it to be moved off their property. Between 2018 and 2021 the American Passenger Train History Museum and the community raised about $400,000 to excavate, build a foundation, and move the depot. In 2021, all the money had been raised and the depot was prepped to be moved. After being lifted off of its original foundation - seen at left - dollies were placed under the building and it began its move across the barren tractor plant sight. Below is a great video captured by one of our members. Take a look!
The building is in very good structural condition. It is also untouched or modified from its original 1912 floor plan. Even the restrooms and ticket office are original. This makes its preservation of even greater importance. The project includes updating the interior with electrical, plumbing, fire suppression, new restrooms, and windows. The Museum is also planning to rehabilitate the exterior, install storm sewer, landscaping, and fencing. This is estimated to cost $1 Million! If you would like to support this effort, please consider donating via PayPal. Or send a check to the American Passenger Train History Museum at PO Box 683, Charles City, IA 50616 .