Staples, MN (SPL)
Owned and managed by the Staples Historical Society, the depot will eventually house a local history museum and commercial uses in addition to the passenger waiting room.
First Avenue N.E. and Fourth Street N.E.
(On south side of new HWY 10)
Staples, MN 56479
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 6,120
- Facility Ownership: Staples Historical Society
- Parking Lot Ownership: BNSF Railway
- Platform Ownership: BNSF Railway
- Track Ownership: BNSF Railway
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
Nestled between Highway 10 and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF) main line, the Staples depot sits between the north and south sides of town, which were long ago defined by the placement of the tracks. Constructed by the Northern Pacific Railway Company (NP), the building shares design characteristics with other depots built by the railroad during the early 20th century. However, it is larger than those found in neighboring towns because Staples served as a NP division point, which meant that office space was needed for railroad employees. Amtrak passengers use the waiting room, and in mid-2012, the Staples-Motley Chamber of Commerce moved into the renovated ticket office.
Opened to the public in 1910, the two-story brick depot sports a restrained Classical Revival style of architecture and was built to replace an earlier wooden building. The buff, cream-colored pressed brick gives the depot a warm glow that is accentuated at twilight by the setting sun. Stone trim in a complimentary grey tone encircles the building at the water table and at the level of the first floor window sills, therefore delineating a base that visually grounds the structure. Wide dormers with three side-by-side windows are centered on the north and south slopes of the hipped roof and allow light into the attic; additional smaller dormers were later removed. Flanking the depot on the east and west facades are porte-cocheres where travelers arriving by carriage or motor car could pull up to the building and get out of their vehicles while sheltered from inclement weather. At the height of the porte-cochere roofs, a canopy extends around the building between the first and second stories.
The ground floor contained the waiting room, ticket office, restrooms, and a baggage and parcel express room. From the outside, these spaces are easy to identify by the size and placement of windows and doors. Passenger areas on the west side of the building are marked by large, wide windows with decorative multi-light transoms that allow ample sunlight to flood the interior. Terrazzo floors, made from marble chips, are durable yet could be polished to a high luster. Similarly, the white glazed brick wainscot around the entire room was easy to clean and maintain. Dark wood trim accented the paneled doors and windows. The ticket office was located so as to separate the passenger and baggage areas. From the office, a rectangular bay projected onto the platform so that the station master could look out and monitor traffic along the rail lines.
On the east end, wide, tall, solid wood doors indicate the location of the baggage and parcel express areas where trunks, bags, and crates were carefully sorted and organized for pick-up. The doors slid open so that wagons laden with goods could be easily wheeled between the storage room and the train. Windows in the baggage room are also small and placed high on the wall to deter would-be thieves and provide greater security.
Offices on the second floor were occupied by railroad staff who oversaw operation of the NP complex near the depot—including a roundhouse, freight house, and other structures. Up in the attic, beds were arranged for train crews, and therefore the dormers in the roof were necessary to provide light and facilitate air circulation. Since Staples was a division point, train crews would start or end their shifts at the depot and rest there between jobs. In recognition of its design integrity and role within the town’s history, the Staples Northern Pacific Railway Depot was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
By the late 20th century, the BNSF, which had assumed ownership of former NP property, no longer used much of the building. In a state of deferred maintenance, the roof began to leak and windows were broken. In the mid-2000s, the city began negotiations with BNSF with the intent to purchase and rehabilitate the depot. The sale was finalized in February 2008, and the depot is now owned and managed by the Staples Historical Society (SHS), an organization that strives to collect and interpret the history of the town and its people.
Since the transfer of ownership, the SHS has undertaken a handful of important improvement projects. In the summer of 2009, the depot received a new roof at a cost of approximately $200,000. It was funded by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) as part of a mitigation effort that allowed the agency to demolish the nearby historic NP hospital in order to widen Highway 10. Although asphalt shingles were used, they resemble the look and texture of the original dark gray slate that was laid down in 1910. During the roof replacement, historic preservation architects discovered the original brown paint scheme used on exterior wooden elements such as the soffits and window frames. Another aspect of the MNDOT project was the repair of the brick pavers around the depot. Sections were removed so that the ground could be leveled and then the pavers were reinstalled; damaged pieces were replaced in kind.
A SHS volunteer—and former Staples mayor—has been systematically rehabilitating the original double-hung sash windows, which number over four dozen. To support this work, the historical society was awarded $49,400 in 2011 through the Minnesota Historical and Cultural Grants Program. Supporters may also “adopt” a window and fund its restoration.
Many of these early activities were undertaken to address the depot’s most pressing needs, but the SHS is also thinking about the future. In 2011, the group won a $404,000 Transportation Enhancement (TE) grant through the Federal Highway Administration. It requires a 20 percent local match of $101,000, and the society is actively working to raise the needed funds. The TE money, available in 2014, will be put towards major projects such as the repair and modernization of the plumbing, electrical, and heating and cooling systems and the re-pointing of the mortar that holds the bricks together. The historical society won a second Minnesota Historical and Cultural Grant for $90,000 in 2011. It will be used to hire planning and historic preservation professionals who will craft a framework to guide the major rehabilitation and long-term maintenance program made possible by the TE grant.
Ultimately, the SHS hopes to restore the second floor so that it can house the Staples Historical Society Museum, which is to include exhibit space, offices, and a reference center. The organization’s collections are currently in storage and this museum space will provide a permanent home where they can be seen and used by the public. Once the major systems work is completed after 2014, the SHS will also examine the possibility of renting out part of the depot for commercial purposes to help defray operating costs.
As far back as the 1850s, railroad promoters dreamed of lines crossing Minnesota that would connect it to the coasts. Not much came of these discussions, although numerous lines were chartered and companies attempted to sell stock—the legislature authorized not less than twenty-seven railroad companies between 1853 and 1857. In 1864, the U.S. Congress chartered the Northern Pacific Railway Company to connect the Great Lakes region with Puget Sound in Washington Territory. It took another six years and the powerful financial backing of Philadelphia financier Jay Cooke before ground was broken west of Duluth at Thompson Junction. Once stoked, momentum pushed the NP track laying teams from east and west until the 2,800 mile main line across the northern United States was finished in 1883. Former President Ulysses S. Grant drove in the “golden spike.”
Located in the Crow Wing River Valley, Staples was founded in the mid-1880s as a lumbering town to take advantage of extensive stands of red and white pine trees. Originally referred to as Presto, the settlement was soon renamed in honor of the Staples family, which had set up a wood mill in what is now the southwest corner of town. Another lumber family, the Dowers, gave its name to a large lake west of town. Although known as a “railroad town,” Staples was a minor stop on the main line until 1889, when the NP built a cut-off designed to shorten its St. Paul-Fargo route. The south end of the cut-off split from existing tracks at Little Falls and the north end met the original main line at Staples.
The opening of the NP cut-off dramatically impacted the local economy because the project led to making Staples a division point and expanding a switchyard to 26 tracks. In those first decades, the railroad constructed two roundhouses that were located across from the depot on the south side of the tracks. Remnants of the foundations are still visible. Other structures included an elevated coal dock, sand, ice and boiler houses and a repair machine shop. Historic photographs show a busy rail yard dominated by two large wooden water towers that fed the thirsty steam locomotives; the water was piped from Dower Lake more than a mile away. At the freight house west of the station, large crates and parcels were processed and stored for shipping and pick-up. A stockyard with 48 pens was laid out near the tracks so that cattle could be fed and watered before being loaded onto cars and shipped to growing areas of the nation. A siding connected the main line with the Staples Mill. During its busiest years, the NP employed more than 400 people at Staples, making it one of the largest job centers in the region.
Based on the success of lumbering and the railroad, Staples flourished in the early 20th century and developed a downtown shopping district and handsome residential districts. One sign of this new-found prosperity was the construction of the three-story Batcher Block, which included a popular opera house that opened in 1907 and played host to traveling musical revues and theatricals, and later to silent movies. Staples’ rich history and ties to the railroad are celebrated annually during the summer “Railroad Days.” The event includes a 5K walk/run to raise money for a local charity, a parade, kids’ activities, and plenty of good food. As night falls, fireworks paint the sky with vivid colors.
Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at this station, which is served by 2 daily trains.
- 10 Long Term Parking Spaces
- Accessible Platform
- Enclosed Waiting Area
- Pay Phones
- Short Term Parking Spaces