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Livingston Depot Center

Updated: August 20, 2020

Livingston Depot Center
Livingston Depot Center

Designed by the same Architect, who drew up New York City's Grand Central Station, the Depot Center itself rivals its collections within for the title of most authentic display. The Northern Pacific Railway began construction of Livingston's third train depot in November of 1901. Itís hard to believe that the place was dedicated in June of the following year.

The depot really served two purposes. Together with the roundhouse and garage, it made for the largest maintenance complex between St. Paul and Seattle. With the Continental Divide just a few miles west of town, helper engines were constantly needed to take trains over Bozeman Pass. But despite its importance to the Northern Pacific's general operations, Livingston was and still is better known as the Gateway to Yellowstone National Park.

depot window
Depot window

When the Livingston Depot Foundation took control of the old railroad station there was virtually nothing left inside. That's all changed now that the Depot has become a bustling community center. The Depot now hosts an annual railroad swap meet, an arts festival, an antique show, holiday bazaar, blues concerts, and a weekly farmer's market in addition to permanent and roving exhibits connected to railroading history.

Before the Northern Pacific line came through town in 1883 visitors journeyed to the "New Northwest" by way of stagecoach or Missouri River steamer. Inside the Depot I saw an old pre-Livingston train schedule which listed connecting services. Also on display was a map of the old West showing a few mountains, rivers, and the relative locations of Indian tribesó no mention of state borders or county lines.

Later, passengers steamed into town and left by stagecoach, a state-of-the-art fringe-topped surrey with room for around eight, to explore the nation's first National Park and curiosities like Old Faithful. (By the way, when John Colter first discovered and described the geothermal action in the area, no one believed his stories. For years the place we call Yellowstone was dubbed "Colter's Hell.") The Depot Center removes its displays during the winter and opens up for weddings, theatre, or other social functions.

depot lanterns
Depot lanterns

As you enter the Depot Center, the most prominent exhibit is probably the mock-up of an old agent's office; a part of "Rails Across the Rockies: A Century of People and Places." Inside the office you can see chairs and desks once occupied by agents whose office is now set up to reveal its original arrangement. There are little cartons of pasturized water, ticket punchers, schedules, and even train orders lying about. An "order hoop"once caught by dexterous engineers as their freight trains passed by the station now hangs smugly on the wall. A working telegraph sits outside the office, next to an ornate fountain, waiting for visitors to send messages up to the second floor mezzanine. Kids have fun with this one. I learned that the familiar [... --- ...] is actually the Morse Code s.o.s. signal for radio. The one for telegraph is [... .. ...]. Another fun and interactive exhibit is the engineer's cab complete with levers and buttons.

Upstairs on the eastern mezzanine there is a children's gallery. The sign on the door reads: "This is a Hands on Children's Gallery PLEASE TOUCH." Here's where you'll find the second telegraph machine, a train safety exhibit, brain games, and even a model train set.

Updated: August 20, 2020

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