Historic Structures

Santa Fe Railroad Station, Brownwood Texas

Date added: August 16, 2022 Categories: Texas Train Station

The Santa Fe Railroad Passenger Station in Brownwood, Texas, is one of the few large depots remaining intact in the state. Built at a time when rail travel was at its peak in the Southwest, the station represents an outstanding example of the Prairie style from the first decade of the twentieth century. Despite its present deteriorated condition, the building represents excellent adaptive use potential which could alleviate a socially declining neighborhood as well as restore a vital link with the Santa Fe Railroad's illustrious past in Brownwood.

The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad initiated passenger service to Brownwood on December 31, 1885. Crowds lined the tracks as engine No. 27 pulled a string of wooden coaches into town. This historic event put an end to the dependence of the community on horse, mule, and ox-drawn wagon trains for supplies.

The first depot was built in 1885 on a site directly opposite the present station. This building burned on November 23, 1892 and was replaced with a wooden freight station, which was transported on ten flat cars from Paris, Texas. The freight station remained on the site of the original station until 1909 when it was moved two blocks to the east to make room for the new facility.

The present station was completed in 1909 to meet the demands of a growing passenger business in Brownwood. Selected from several designs submitted by the architectural department of the Santa Fe Railroad, the structure represents an outstanding example of the Prairie style in Texas. Original design proposals are filed in the Santa Fe headquarters office in Chicago.

In the pre-dining car era of railroad passenger travel, patrons depended on restaurants near the station for meals. The first restaurant across from the station was built in 1885 with the advent of passenger service in Brownwood. This popular establishment was operated by Mrs. Bertha McDermott until a new facility was added to the station in 1911.

The Santa Fe Railroad signed a contract with the Fred Harvey restaurant chain from California that year and the Harvey House Restaurant and Hotel was built to the east of the passenger station and connected with the station by a covered loggia.

With the technical advancement of railroad passenger equipment in the 1920's, dining cars operated by Fred Harvey and plush Pullman cars were added to the rosters of most trains which traveled through Brownwood. As a result of such luxury accommodations, the patronage at the Harvey House declined. As was experienced by all American railroads during World War II, passenger traffic reached an all-time peak and the public facilities were taxed to their limits. With the end of the war came a greater slump in traffic and the Harvey House closed its doors.

In the great years of railroad travel, Brownwood was serviced by fifteen passenger trains a day. Among the more notable trains were the "Antelope" from Kansas City to Brownwood; the "California Special" from Los Angeles to Dallas; the "Navajo" from Los Angeles to Houston; and the "Texan" from Clovis, New Mexico to Temple. Activity at the station continued through the 1960's with four trains a day as late as 1964 and occasional special trains such as the twenty-car "Football Special" which ran to Cleburne on September 21, 1962 for the opening high school game of the season. But passenger service dwindled to one train a day and the last passenger train through Brownwood left the station on July 21, 1968.

The facility at Washington Avenue and Adams Street continued as a Santa Fe freight office until August 19, 1974, when the offices were moved to Coggin Avenue. At the present time, the buildings are unoccupied and have been boarded-up to prevent further vandalism. The Brownwood Civic Theatre, Inc., is negotiating with the Santa Fe Railroad for purchase of the building. The station would adapt very well to the needs of the organization with the audience accommodation in the waiting room, the stage in the telegrapher's tower, and the backstage facilities in the baggage room.