Designed in the neoclassical style by noted architect Charles Sumner Frost in 1913, Union Depot is another local monument to James J. Hill’s eye for exquisite quality and detail. Sadly, Mr. Hill did not live to see the completion of the current building. He died in 1916.
Charles Sumner Frost was born in Minnesota and educated at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He worked in Chicago in the late 1890s and designed the Northwestern and LaSalle stations there. He designed the Milwaukee Road and Great Northern stations in Minneapolis.
Construction of the current building began in 1917 but was slowed by the demands of World War I and an economic depression. It was the largest construction project in downtown St. Paul during the 20th century. Original construction costs were $15 million.
The station had 10 platforms and 21 passenger tracks. Eight of the tracks ended at Union Depot.
The ceiling in the Concourse is in the Guastavino vault style. This architectural style is very structurally sound, incorporating several layers of tiles laid out in a herringbone pattern. As there are few recurring joints, the ceiling holds up well under heavy vibrations making it an excellent choice for a connection to a train station.
On the second floor of the Concourse and lower levels of the Head House, there were large areas for mail handling. It was the third largest mail handling station, behind New York and Chicago, in its time. Tunnels under Kellogg Blvd. connected the Head House USPS operations out under the tracks for mail. These tunnels were also used for transport of baggage between the baggage check room and the tracks.
Skylights in the Waiting Room were once blackened with tar to protect WWII troops being deployed through Union Depot from potential air attacks. Minnesota’s young men and women left from here to go to war. Munitions and equipment from the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP – Arden Hills) and troops from Fort Snelling met here at Union Depot to board trains and head out to service during World War II.
Every day people used Union Depot to travel for work and holiday. They sent their children to summer camps and schools via trains. High-quality jobs were available at Union Depot to African-American men. The African-American employees were most often Red Caps who provided passenger assistance and concierge services and who worked hard to maintain a clean and safe building for anyone passing through.
The last passenger train (Burlington’s Afternoon Zephyr) left Union Depot on April 30, 1971. The National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) was launched on May 1, 1971 with operations in Minneapolis.
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