Purchased by the city in 2007, the depot recently underwent an exterior restoration; there are also plans to rehabilitate the interior, which retains many original features.
Main & East Clay Streets Osceola, IA 50213
- Annual Station Revenue (2015)
- Annual Station Ridership (2015)
|Facility Ownership||City of Osceola|
|Parking Lot Ownership||City of Osceola|
|Platform Ownership||BNSF Railway|
|Track Ownership||BNSF Railway|
|10 Long Term Parking Spaces||10 Short Term Parking Spaces||Accessible Payphones|
|Accessible Platform||Accessible Restrooms||Accessible Waiting Room|
|Accessible Water Fountain||Dedicated Parking||Enclosed Waiting Area|
- California Zephyr
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The citizens of Osceola and rail passengers from the surrounding area had much to celebrate as the depot marked its 100th birthday in 2007. In the fall of that year, the city finally gained ownership of the historic building after a decade of talks with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. Working with an architect specializing in historic preservation, the city soon planned a multi-phase restoration of the depot and parking area to create an intermodal transportation hub that will better serve Amtrak and intercity bus riders.
Located 50 miles south of the state capital along the Interstate-35 corridor, Osceola is considered a “gateway” for rail passengers from both Des Moines and Kansas City who are headed west to Denver and California by way of the California Zephyr. Subsequently, it is the busiest Amtrak stop in Iowa. Although unstaffed, the depot has a caretaker who opens the waiting room for the two daily arrivals of the California Zephyr.
The municipal government received $600,000 in federal funds through the Iowa Department of Transportation for the restoration of the building’s exterior. This project included the installation of a new roof, reconstruction of a damaged chimney, restoration of existing windows, installation of new historically-appropriate storm windows, manufacture of new entry doors that match the originals, re-pointing of the mortar that holds the bricks in place, and general rehabilitation and cleaning of the brick and stone surfaces.
The remainder of the funds for exterior work will be combined with $150,000 from the city and another $100,000 from a local non-profit development corporation to cover the cost of a restored brick platform, a new hard-surface parking lot, improved lighting, and landscaping to consist of trees, lawns, and a planter box at the front of the station. The enhanced parking area will also include a designated bus and taxi drop-off zone while decorative fencing along the edge of the platform will improve passenger safety. In early 2012, the depot rehabilitation project won an additional $750,000 through the Federal Highway Administration’s Transportation Enhancements program. Work on the parking lot and landscaping will continue into 2014.
As part of the Mobility First initiative of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Osceola station received a new wheelchair lift and enclosure, improvements to the crossing to the platform, and accessible parking stalls. In addition, a new sidewalk and curb cut facilitate travel between the parking area and the platform. The estimated total cost of this project was $90,000.
The city wishes to restore the interior, but must find funding. According to the current proposal, the former freight area would become the new waiting room and might accommodate local history displays; in turn, the former waiting room would become a small museum, restaurant, or other retail space. As of summer 2012, the city was seeking a grant through Vision Iowa, a program of the Iowa Economic Development Authority that was formed to assist communities in the creation of permanent cultural, recreational, entertainment and educational attractions. The ultimate goal is for communities to be able to use tourism infrastructure as a way to promote economic development. Osceola officials hope to win a $277,000 Community Attraction and Tourism (CAT) grant, but the city must raise independent funds to demonstrate broad public support. A fundraising campaign is underway by the non-profit “Friends of the Osceola Depot.” The group is soliciting donations from local businesses and individuals and is selling colorful prints of the depot. CAT grants also require funds from the city and county.
The Osceola Depot was built by the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q), one of the major networks operating in the upper Midwest and West during much of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. On a visit to Osceola in 1906, the CB&Q general manager noted that the existing frame depot “was a disgrace to the Q Road…,” and thus plans were drawn up for a structure more in keeping with the railroad’s desire to express its power and stability. The CB&Q engineering staff designed a $12,000, one-story reddish-brown brick building with a limestone water table and belt courses. One belt course sits at the level of the window sills, and the other at the base of the brackets that support the eaves. The water table and the belt courses wrap around the rectangular structure and visually emphasize its low slung, horizontal profile reminiscent of many contemporaneous structures that today are referred to as “Prairie Style.” The exterior woodwork—doors, window sashes and frames, brackets, and gables—is painted turquoise, providing a vibrant contrast against the subdued brown brick. The brackets sustain the deep eaves of the hipped roof which shelter waiting passengers from the elements.
Trackside, the southwestern end of the building contained a freight storage area as indicated by the heavy, wide wood doors and the small, high windows that discouraged theft and promoted a sense of strength and security for the goods contained within its walls. The freight room door is marked by a gable covered in clapboard. A three sided bay also projects onto the platform area; from here the station agent would have monitored rail traffic through the windows. Comparing the current state of the building’s exterior to an early photograph, little has changed in a century of service; the two major alterations were the addition of the gable over the freight room door and a change in roofing material.
Inside, the visitor steps back in time. Bead board covers the bottom of the interior walls to the level of the chair rail. The ticket office remains with the original ticket windows in place; transoms are lettered with “Tickets” and “Conductors”. Large windows grouped in pairs and triplets allow ample light to flood the waiting room which is populated by handsome wood benches original to the room. The hanging light fixtures have remained in place throughout the building’s life. Upon its dedication in May 1907, numerous civic leaders spoke and the high school glee club provided musical entertainment. Due to its high level of physical integrity and the role it plays as a symbol of the railroad in the development of the town, the Osceola Depot was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.
While Iowa hosted a number of railroads, the mainline running through the southern tier of the state was conceptualized and built by the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad. Incorporated in 1852, the owners hoped to build a line from the city of Burlington on the Mississippi River to Council Bluffs on the Missouri River, and then onto Omaha, Nebraska where the railroad was headquartered—the two great rivers respectively formed the eastern and western boundaries of the state. The southern route was desirable due to the area’s potential for agricultural production, timber harvesting and finishing, and coal mining—all activities that would bring business to the railroad. In colorful posters aimed at settlers throughout the Midwest and on the East Coast, the railroad advertised the sale of the “Millions of Acres” it had received in federal land grants.
Commencing surveying in 1853, the seventy-five mile line from Burlington to Ottumwa was completed by 1859. After a delay due to the Civil War, construction started once again in 1865, passed through young Osceola by January 1868, and reached the Missouri River by 1869. The first 496 mile, 22 hour journey from Chicago to Council Bluffs was made in January 1870 and regular rail service began soon thereafter. Two years later, the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad was subsumed into the CB&Q. In the mid-1930s, the CB&Q began running its famous Zephyrs, articulated stainless steel, streamlined passenger trains that came to epitomize a new era of glamour for the railroads. The famed California Zephyr that ran between Chicago and San Francisco included a vista-dome car that allowed glorious all-around views of the countryside, cities, and towns through which the train sped.
Iowa was long settled by American Indian peoples including the Ioway, Sauk, Mesquaki, Sioux, and Potawatomi. As European-American settlement encroached further west, many tribes were pushed to the west side of the Mississippi River and then toward the Missouri River. The first European-American settlers in the Osceola area were Mormons who were separated from their group as it moved from Illinois to the Great Salt Lake region of Utah in 1846-1847. They formed a small community but eventually it was abandoned.
Described as “beautifully situated on a high dry, rolling prairie between the valley of Squaw and Whitebreast creeks,” Osceola became the Clarke County seat in 1851 at the decision of the new county commissioners. A central square provided a public gathering space for the townspeople, and many of the first stores and businesses set up shop along its perimeter. With the arrival of the railroad, the area’s agricultural and livestock products could be shipped to Chicago and points east.
The name Osceola was chosen in honor of the Seminole leader of the same name. Osceola strongly resisted the removal of the Seminoles from Florida at the hands of the U.S. government in the 1830s. “Osceola” is an anglicization of the Creek “asi-yahola;” “asi” is the ceremonial black drink made from the yaupon holly, and “yahola” means “shout or shouter.” Osceola received much sympathy from the American public when he was invited to truce negotiations with U.S. officials but was instead captured. A cause célèbre, Osceola’s portrait was painted by George Caitlin, and thus we have an idea of his likeness. Osceola died of malaria in 1838 while under arrest at Fort Moultrie, South Carolina. His story was early memorialized in histories and novels and many towns and counties were named for him.
Visitors to Osceola are delighted by its small town charms, particularly evident during its famous July 4th celebration; the multi-day festival includes a carnival, food stands, and a parade. A walk around the central square gives an idea of the town’s rich architectural heritage. Lovers of Art Deco movie palaces head for the Lyric Theater on South Fillmore St. to admire its ziggurat façade; the buff yellow brick contrasts strongly with the black brick used at the base and in the four vertical, squared shafts that reach for the sky. Panels of bricks laid at an angle enliven the central bay and achieve the sense of movement elemental to Art Deco design. The town was also given a compact Carnegie Library which opened in 1911. Wetherell and Gage architects of Des Moines turned an $11,000 grant into a Jacobean Revival palace for the people. The red brick structure exhibits an impressive projecting entrance bay topped with an undulating parapet trimmed in stone and highlighted by stylized quoins. The main door has a stone surround composed of pilasters supporting scrollwork and a plaque carved with “Public Library.”
For the rail enthusiast, no stroll around town is complete without a visit to the 1935 post office. Inside, there is a 1936 oil-on-canvas mural by Des Moines-based architect, artist, and playwright Byron Ben Boyd entitled “Arrival of the First Train.” The New Deal era work depicts the excitement surrounding the arrival of the first locomotive in Osceola; thick black smoke erupts from the smokestack and dramatically swirls around the “iron horse” while the people cheer and look on in amazement—a new age has arrived that will forever change the community.
Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at this station which is served by two daily trains.