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Feb 18th
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Home Travel Preservation Historic Grand Canyon Depot Marks 100 Years of Welcoming Visitors

Historic Grand Canyon Depot Marks 100 Years of Welcoming Visitors

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The Grand Canyon Depot turns 100 in 2010, marking a century of welcoming millions of visitors to Grand Canyon National Park.

The modest-looking two-and-a-half story log structure that is the Grand Canyon Depot has served as the point of entry for park tourists traveling aboard the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams, Ariz., 65 miles to the south of the park.

Visitors first came to the Grand Canyon by steam train beginning in 1901 aboard the steam-driven Santa Fe Railway. Before the train option, travelers to the park could only arrive via a jarring all-day stagecoach ride from Flagstaff, Ariz.

grand canyon depot
With increasing interest in train travel to the Canyon, the Santa Fe Railway determined a depot was needed to house a ticket office, waiting room, baggage room and other public services. Construction on the Grand Canyon Depot began in 1909 and was completed in 1910.

Designed by Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway architect Fred Wilson, the building is one of 14 log depots constructed in the U.S. and one of only three that are still in existence. The lower level of the building housed train passenger services while the second level housed the station agent's family.

The structure's logs are architecturally significant because they are squared on three sides providing a flat surface for adjacent logs and a flat wall inside the building. Distinctive construction techniques such as securing building paper between and over the faces of logs have limited the amount of moisture that has entered the depot. Consequently the depot is in excellent condition even after 100 years, and there have been just a few changes to the log-and-wood structure over the years.

One significant change to the iconic building occurred just one year after it was completed. The original copper letters on the front of the building originally spelled "Grand Canon;" they were changed to read "Grand Canyon." The lettering is still clearly visible on the structure today.

Here are some other interesting features and facts about the building:

  • The structure marks the only branch railroad track within national park boundaries and was built nine years before the Grand Canyon was given national park status in 1919.
  • Because of its prominent location, dramatic signage and rustic look, the depot is the most-photographed structure in the park, according to the National Park Service.
  • The depot was intended to reflect and complement nearby El Tovar hotel, built five years prior. The deep brown stain on the logs, waiting area chandelier and overall rustic look are similar to the features of the hotel, which is located on a hill above the depot. In fact, the tightly fitting logs of the depot were considered to even be superior in construction to El Tovar.
  • Train service to the Grand Canyon ended temporarily in 1968 and the National Park Service acquired the building in 1982 and used it for a variety of purposes including as an interpretive center, construction offices and concession for renting hiking equipment.
  • The Grand Canyon Railway was acquired by new owners and resumed service in 1989. The passenger train has been traveling to Grand Canyon National Park every day except Christmas Day since 1995.
  • The Santa Fe Railway built the Williams Depot and Fray Marcos Hotel in Williams in 1908, the same year the Grand Canyon was designated a national monument. Both buildings were designed by architect Fred Wilson. The Williams Depot is still in operation today, and the Fray Marcos Hotel houses Grand Canyon Railway offices. The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, built in 1995, was designed to resemble the Fray Marcos Hotel.
  • The Grand Canyon Depot was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1987. The Williams downtown district, including the depot as well as the Fray Marcos Hotel, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Grand Canyon Railway offers four classes of rail service including coach class, first class, observation dome and luxury parlor class. The train's website offers panoramic photos of each class of service along with pricing information and other details.

The Grand Canyon Railway operates the 297-room Grand Canyon Railway Hotel located steps away from the Williams Depot. The hotel recently completed extensive renovations to several public areas including Spenser's Pub, which features an authentic English bar with a distinctive history.

The hotel's 1,000-square-foot Rail Baron Suite is a popular special-occasion lodging option. Recipient of ISO 14001 certification, the Grand Canyon Railway is operated by Xanterra Parks & Resorts. Xanterra is known for its innovative and effective environmental programs.

Grand Canyon Railway is an authorized concessioner of the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service. For more information visit
www.thetrain.com or call (800) 843-8724. More information about Grand Canyon National Park can be obtained at www.nps.gov/grca or by calling (928) 638-7888.