Railway Preservation News

Keokuk Union Depot Marks 125th Anniversary
Page 1 of 1

Author:  rlsteam [ Thu Jun 30, 2016 10:52 am ]
Post subject:  Keokuk Union Depot Marks 125th Anniversary

The following article appeared in the Keokuk DAILY GATE CITY on June 29, 2016, announcing the 125th Anniversary Open House of the Keokuk Union Depot on Saturday, July 2.
On Friday, the Keokuk Union Depot will be 125 years old, not subtracting any years for its second lease on life – recent renovations and cultural events.

To celebrate, the Keokuk Union Depot Foundation and the Keokuk Union Depot Commission will hold an open house at the building from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday to celebrate this historic event and announce exciting news about the depot’s future, according to Janet Smith, president of the Keokuk Union Depot Foundation.

Guest speaker will be Keokuk native Neal Vogel, principal of Restoric LLC, who is in charge of the depot’s roof restoration project.

Since the City of Keokuk acquired the depot in 2011, the structure has served as an event center, hosting weddings, reunions, graduation and anniversary parties, and business meetings for guests not only from Keokuk and Lee County, but also from Hancock and Clark counties.

A massive restoration project is well on its way to turning the depot back into the showcase that it was in 1891, but this time for 21st century use.


Five railroads originally served Keokuk in the late 19th century, each using its own wooden sheds for passenger and freight customers.

The Keokuk Union Depot combined the passenger and express traffic from all the railroads and was owned by all the railroads.

The depot served railroad travelers and express shippers until the end of passenger service to Keokuk in 1967.

A fire caused by lightning on July 8, 1937, damaged the central tower, but the tower was still in place with the original red clay tiles in 1949. Shortly afterward, the central tower was leveled, decreasing its height by 24 feet. The clay tiles were replaced by asphalt shingles, now decades beyond their useful lives.

The structure’s use as an event center began in 2013 after volunteers completed cleaning and repairs to make the former main waiting room usable. Significant restoration of the waiting room had been done in the late 1980s. Much more extensive work has been planned and started in the five years since the City of Keokuk acquired the depot.

Recent grants from the local Questers organizations have funded the restoration of the oak paneling interior and doors and windows of the waiting room.

With the help of a $56,600 Historical Resource Development Program grant from the State of Iowa in 2015, the depot commenced a portion of the roof restoration in the summer of 2015. The now-completed HRDP project consisted of restoring the chimney to its original height and restoring the eaves and brackets around the waiting room.

The HRDP project is a portion of the larger $1 million roof restoration project for which the Keokuk Union Depot Foundation has received a Jeffris Family Foundation 2-for-1 challenge grant of $333,000. The KUDF must raise $667,000 to receive the grant.

The Jeffris Family Foundation, based in Janesville, Wis., is dedicated to the historic preservation of significant architectural structures in small towns in the Midwest.

As of June 24, the KUDF has raised $538,565 toward the $667,000 Jeffris match leaving $128,435 to be raised.

The central tower will be restored to its original height. Red clay tiles similar to the original tiles (and manufactured by the same company) will be installed and all of the ornamental details of the roof line will be restored, including the decorative ridge and hip tiles, corner turrets and dormers and the copper gutters, and hip pinnacles and finials.

The depot was designed and built in 1891 by the Chicago architectural firm Burnham and Root and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It is one of the last projects of John Wellborn Root, who died at age 41 of pneumonia six months before the depot was completed.

The Keokuk Union Depot is one of the few remaining examples of Root’s celebrated Romanesque Revival style of public architecture, particularly railroad depots in the Midwest.

Burnham and Root also designed the famed Chicago “White City” for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, as well as the Rookery and the Monadnock buildings in Chicago.

[Postcard view from circa 1900]

kud_postcard_1900.jpg [ 91.61 KiB | Viewed 7185 times ]

Author:  PMC [ Thu Jun 30, 2016 2:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Keokuk Union Depot Marks 125th Anniversary

Very cool. I visited it in 1980 when NKP 765 ran over the TP&W on a Golden Arrow tours run from Peoria to Keokuk and back (which turned out to be a very long trip due to engine troubles). I only hope I live long enough to see a regular Amtrak train stop there. Were you ever able to track down the missing waiting room benches that the previous owner "borrowed"?

Author:  rlsteam [ Thu Jun 30, 2016 5:23 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Keokuk Union Depot Marks 125th Anniversary

None of the missing benches has ever turned up. Although interior paneling, etc. has been worked on continuously over the past year, our focus right now is on the million-dollar roof project, which will start in July. Just today we received a major grant for the reconstruction of the apex of the central tower (details to be announced at the Saturday open house). The peak will be constructed on the ground and hoisted to the top of the building; I hope to provide photos as work gets under way.

The Depot has become a favorite local venue for events such as weddings, receptions, bridal and baby showers, class reunions, concerts, and others, and our Facebook following is approaching the 1500 mark. To view details, go to our web site, http://www.keokukuniondepot.org.

Author:  rlsteam [ Sun Jul 03, 2016 10:33 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Keokuk Union Depot Marks 125th Anniversary

On Saturday, July 2, the Keokuk Union Depot Foundation held an open house to mark the 125th anniversary of the construction of the building. Janet Smith, president of the Foundation, announced a $43,400 grant from the Historical Resource Development Program of the Iowa State Historical Society, to underwrite construction of the apex to the central tower. That work is to begin this month and when completed (probably around Labor Day) will restore the Depot roof to its original height. The open house had a good attendance of local residents, with people also coming from as far as Colorado and Georgia, as well as from Chicago and central Iowa. Depot volunteers conducted tours of the building, and the model of the restored Depot constructed by Matthew Martin of Restoric LLC (the restoration contractor) was on display. WGEM-TV (Quincy, Illinois) covered the event, interviewing Foundation president Janet Smith, and Tri States Public Radio also interviewed several attendees. The Foundation is nearing its goal of raising $1M for restoration of the Depot roof (replacing worn asphalt shingles with clay tiles, and reconstructing the central tower that was leveled off around 1949).

depot_125th_anniv_announcement.jpg [ 147.26 KiB | Viewed 7185 times ]
depot_125th_anniv_tour.jpg [ 149.36 KiB | Viewed 7185 times ]
depot_125th_anniv_model.jpg [ 90.92 KiB | Viewed 7185 times ]

Author:  PMC [ Sun Jul 03, 2016 6:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Keokuk Union Depot Marks 125th Anniversary

Now if you could just get KJ to move their interchange track with BNSF so that depot guests could see the river....

Author:  rlsteam [ Sun Jul 03, 2016 8:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Keokuk Union Depot Marks 125th Anniversary

Yes, that issue comes up frequently in discussion. The trackage is still owned by Pioneer Railcorp (I believe through its subsidiary, the Keokuk Union Depot Company, still listed by Pioneer as one of its component railroads!) and is in regular use for railroad operations. Twin Rivers Yard is a few miles downriver and has been occupied by carloads of pipe for the new pipeline coming through the area, so it's not an alternative location for those tank cars. But on a few special occasions in the past, Pioneer/KJRY has cleared the trackage in front of the Depot.

My feeling about it is that, although it's not very glamorous to look out the Depot window and see tank cars for corn syrup or steepwater or whatever, I am glad the Depot is still located on an active rail line. Many restored depots today are nowhere near any railroad tracks because of abandonments.

Author:  PMC [ Sun Jul 03, 2016 11:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Keokuk Union Depot Marks 125th Anniversary

Agreed, and I wouldn't want them to stop operating over the bridge either. I'll bet there was a siding along the connection track for interchange when the depot was still active for passengers.

Author:  rlsteam [ Mon Jul 04, 2016 8:23 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Keokuk Union Depot Marks 125th Anniversary

How that was handled before passenger service ended (in 1967) I don't know. But it's worth noting that for Pioneer Railcorp (KJRY) to access the Mississippi bridge, trains must cross over the BNSF "K Line" trackage through Keokuk (via switches, no diamond). The original KJRY took over the switching of the Hubinger (now Roquette America) corn processing plant from the defunct Rock Island in 1980 (and acquired the Keokuk Union Depot Company in 1981). The Rock Island accessed Keokuk via a line along the Des Moines River and its trackage was on the bluff side of the CB&Q/BN up to the freight house (just downriver from the Union Depot). Therefore, to access the bridge (now owned by the City of Keokuk), KJRY trains have to cross over the BNSF. My supposition is that Pioneer-BNSF interchange could conveniently occur elsewhere in the yards, and must have done so on those occasions when Pioneer has temporarily removed the railcars from in front of the Depot.

Author:  PMC [ Thu Jul 07, 2016 7:38 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Keokuk Union Depot Marks 125th Anniversary

I did some asking around and was able to find some information on how interchange was handled in 1968 and after, not when the depot was open for passengers but I wonder if it was done the same prior to 1967. From John Stell, former Rock Island and TP&W agent:

"In 1968 when I became TP&W operator all interchange was done on the 5 KUD tracks. KUD 1 was the CB&Q main line. KUD 2 was for N&W-RI interchange and I think for N&W CB&Q as well. KUD 3 was CB&Q-RI interchange. KUD 4 was TP&W-RI interchange. KUD 5 was CB&Q-TP&W interchange. KUD 5 was the old Q freight main. It was closest to TP&W depot. This is from my memory of almost 50 years ago. There is a list in a TP&W publication showing all interchange tracks for the entire railroad but I can not recall where."

It seems possible that interchange was always done in a way that blocks the view of the river.

Author:  rlsteam [ Thu Jul 07, 2016 10:47 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Keokuk Union Depot Marks 125th Anniversary

Thanks for that information. John Stell has long been a great source of historic information about the TP&W and other operations in the Peoria area.

The Keokuk DAILY GATE CITY carried this article about the Depot's 125th anniversary event, and the nearing of our fundraising goal for the roof restoration project.

Page 1 of 1 All times are UTC - 5 hours [ DST ]
Powered by phpBB © 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007 phpBB Group