Nine railroads joined to form the St. Paul Union Depot Company in 1879 to better serve passengers traveling on the many trains available. James J. Hill, nicknamed the “Empire Builder,” through his Great Northern Railway, led the effort to create a single passenger terminal. The nine railroads included:
Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha
Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul
Chicago Great Western
Chicago Burlington & Quincy
Minneapolis, St. Paul, Sault St. Marie
Minneapolis & St. Louis
Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific
The Empire Builder train was named after James J. Hill and was first operated by the Great Northern Railway.
The first Union Depot in St. Paul opened in 1881 and was located south of Kellogg Blvd. The total cost of the first station cost $125,000 to build.
Damaged by fire and rebuilt in 1884 in the same location, Union Depot became an important stopping point for immigrants, emigrants and orphans traveling on “orphan trains.” Immigrants and emigrants were often enticed west with free passage and the promise of land along the rails in exchange for work on the road or by the government in exchange for successful homesteading.
Fire completely destroyed the depot in 1913. As early depots were often too small for rail travel demands at the time, the St. Paul Union Depot Company determined that a grand building with great capacity for passenger space and many railroads was needed in the capitol city.
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