Fort Madison, IA (FMD)
Established as a military post in 1808, the town became a major rail hub in the late 19th century when the Santa Fe Railway constructed a bridge over the Mississippi River. In late 2021, Amtrak relocated to the historic downtown Santa Fe depot along the waterfront.
810 10th Street
Fort Madison, IA 52627
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2021): 2,680
- Facility Ownership: City of Fort Madison
- Parking Lot Ownership: City of Fort Madison
- Platform Ownership: BNSF Railway
- Track Ownership: BNSF Railway
Amtrak relocated to the historic Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway depot, situated along the downtown waterfront, on Dec. 15, 2021. The move followed a more than decade-long project to prepare the site for passenger operations. Trains had not stopped at the depot since 1968 when the Santa Fe Railway opened a new, smaller passenger building about two miles southwest on the edge of a rail yard. Since Amtrak did not begin operations until May 1971, it had never served the downtown depot via its famed Southwest Chief.
Five days earlier, on the evening of Dec. 10, city and Amtrak leaders hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony with state and local officials and community members at the historic depot to celebrate the pending move and announce the commencement of regular service. The westbound Southwest Chief made a special stop to allow Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld and guests—who had boarded the train in Galesburg, Ill.—to detrain. Following speeches, the crowd enjoyed fireworks, music and refreshments.
The historic Santa Fe depot is part of a complex that also includes a former Railway Express Agency (REA) building and freight office. Situated between Avenue H and Riverview Park bordering the Mississippi River, the three historic structures are stylistically similar, but were built over the span of 25 years. The combined freight and passenger depot opened in 1910 to replace an earlier wooden structure from 1888.
By the dawn of the 20th century, Fort Madison was an important division and crew change point on Santa Fe routes headed to the Southwest and California, and the town also had a locomotive repair shop and other facilities. Therefore, the railroad decided to construct a more permanent brick passenger building.
The Santa Fe had also become adept at using architecture and design to promote itself—many of the western routes were actively marketed to a new upper middle class with discretionary income to spend on travel. Western locales were cast in an exotic light to attract tourists, with advertisements highlighting ancient American Indian cultures in New Mexico and the Spanish colonial missions of California.
Reinforcing this association between the railroad and the West, the Santa Fe constructed depots whose designs referenced Spanish colonial and American Indian buildings. Common architectural elements included arcades, exposed rafters cut in decorative profiles, towers that resembled campaniles, and remates (curvilinear gables). Materials employed included stucco, concrete—which resembled adobe—tejas (red clay roof tiles), and fanciful metal and tile work.
Fort Madison was the only Santa Fe passenger stop in Iowa, so the $14,000 depot was meant to be a showpiece. Designed by Santa Fe Chief Engineer C.F. Morse, the dark red brick station was based on the railroad’s standardized design known as the “county seat” model, meant for a town of considerable size. Although the basic form and layout were predetermined, the detailing could be adjusted to provide a regional flavor. The Fort Madison depot features trim executed in local Appanoose stone, such as a water table, sills, lintels and coping.
The building’s horizontal orientation—long and low to the ground—is contrasted by a soaring central tower that overlooks the main line tracks. At the base of the tower, which projects onto the platform, was the station master’s office. From its windows, he had an unobstructed view down the line to monitor traffic. Major door and window openings are set in archways that recall mission arcades, and their placement corresponds with the position of the gables along the double-hipped clay tile roof. Each gable was fitted with the Santa Fe’s cross-within-a-circle emblem. Deep eaves circling the building sheltered passengers from inclement weather as they waited outside for the arrival of the train.
A general waiting room and another for women and children were situated in the center of the building. Sets of 8-over-1 windows allowed plenty of natural light to flood the interior. At the eastern end was an amenity quite common in early 20th century depot design: a covered, open-air waiting room framed by wide arches. The far side of the depot was reserved for service areas such as offices and a baggage room. On the exterior, the placement of the latter is indicated by the wide, tall doors that allowed carts laden with trunks and suitcases to be wheeled between the train and the station.
Following a generation of service, the depot’s interior décor was modernized in 1945 to reflect a popular Art Deco streamlined aesthetic. The women’s waiting room was eliminated, and the walls of the general waiting room were covered in a sleek wood veneer accented by horizontal metal bands that caught the light and added a bit of sparkle.
The Railway Express Agency—a shipping service that operated over the railroads—constructed a facility to the west of the depot between 1924 and 1926. REA architect J.M. Dunham designed the structure to be sympathetic with its neighbor; thus, its scale, material palette and massing are quite similar. Much like the depot’s baggage room, the REA building also had large doorways that could accommodate wagons loaded with crates and parcels that were then sorted and processed for distribution. Windows were small and placed high on the walls to deter theft and ensure the security of the goods stored within.
Between 1931 and 1934, the Santa Fe erected a freight office to the west of the REA building. It reflects the more utilitarian, streamlined style of the era, but incorporates decorative detailing along the roofline that includes the Santa Fe emblem in stone. Between shifts, railroad brakemen and conductors could go to the freight office to take a nap and wash up.
When the Santa Fe moved to its then-new depot—built of red brick with metal siding—in 1968, it sold the old station complex to the city for $1 and removed most of the furnishings. Fort Madison subsequently leased the buildings to the North Lee County Historical Society (NLCHS) in 1972, which installed a museum focused on regional history, including that of the railroads. Under the terms of the lease, the society was responsible for routine maintenance of the three buildings. Over more than four decades, it raised almost $400,000 to replace windows, repair the roofs, install furnaces, and fence the property to prevent visitors from straying onto the active BNSF tracks.
The city, in collaboration with BNSF, Amtrak, the Iowa Department of Transportation, the Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission and the NLCHS, had worked since 2006 to restore the old Santa Fe station to accommodate an Amtrak waiting room and ticket office as well as exhibition and storage space for the NLCHS museum.
In response to severe floods during the late 20th century, the Santa Fe and then the BNSF had raised the right-of-way more than three feet to lift it above flood level. Unfortunately, the depot remained susceptible to high water and was deluged several times. Original plans called for constructing berms and flood walls around the depot to protect it and the museum collections. But the city, with the advice of engineers, eventually decided upon a more permanent solution: lift the depot off its foundation, construct a new five foot high concrete base, and lower the building back into place.
By doing so, the building—listed on the National Register of Historic Places—is now located above the projected high-water mark of a 500 year flood. The Iowa Historical Society, which is also the State Historic Preservation Office, agreed that the elevation of the buildings was the best solution to avoid repeated flooding that might threaten their structural integrity.
With the assistance of Metzger Johnson Architects, a division of Klinger and Associates, the depot rehabilitation project was divided into four phases: raise the buildings and attach them to the new foundations; raise, grade and pave the adjacent parking lot; construct a concrete platform with tactile edging and a canopy; and renovate the buildings’ interiors to accommodate Amtrak and museum functions.
A groundbreaking ceremony attended by then-Mayor Steve Ireland, State Senator Gene Fraise, State Representative Jerry Kearns, and other local and regional officials took place in February 2011. Phase I was completed that spring, and thanks to a webcam, people around the world were able to follow the progress online. Phases II and III were completed in 2012, and Phase IV, which included installation of an accessible concrete platform, was finished in 2021.
The total cost of the project was approximately $4.5 million, and the city obtained funds from a diverse array of grant programs. Fort Madison won approximately $1.5 million through the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Transportation Enhancements program. These funds were granted to support the elevation and renovation of the buildings.
Other federal sources included $22,800 from the FHWA’s Scenic Byways program, with the intention that the restored depot would provide tourist information for people traveling the Great River Road. Fort Madison was also designated a Preserve America Community, which made it eligible for a $20,000 grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior to support planning and promotional efforts related to community heritage.
In 2009, the project won $1.13 million through I-Jobs, a state investment program designed to renew Iowa’s infrastructure, promote long-term economic growth, and help create and retain jobs. Another $100,000 was gained through the Fort Madison Southeast Iowa Regional Riverboat Commission, which is funded with revenue from local casinos. The platform was supported through a $1.2 million grant awarded to the city by the Federal Railroad Administration. Finally, the city provided $176,500, BNSF contributed $50,000 and Amtrak dedicated $150,000.
The Iowa League of Cities named the city of Fort Madison an “All-Star Community” in 2022 for its rehabilitation of the Santa Fe depot. The award is given to communities that demonstrate excellence and innovation in local government, and eligible projects include efforts focused on urban renewal, business development, historic preservation, efficient delivery of services and more. The Iowa League of Cities counts more than 850 cities as members and provides advocacy, training and guidance to strengthen the state’s communities.
Fort Madison was established as a military post along the Mississippi River in 1808. Named for President James Madison, it was occupied during the War of 1812 and was destroyed. A replica of the fort—located south of the depot—was rebuilt as a historical site in 1983 and features tours and historical interpretation.
The City of Fort Madison was settled in 1838 as a maritime trading post. The town eventually became reliant upon the railroads and manufacturing. In the late 1860s, a rail connection was made with Keokuk about 20 miles south along the Mississippi River; it became part of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (CBQ) in 1869. An old brick CBQ depot stands north of the Santa Fe complex.
In the mid-1880s, the Santa Fe decided to extend eastward toward Chicago from its home base in Kansas. A major challenge was the bridging of the Mississippi River, which the company decided to do at Fort Madison since the settlement was on the short, direct “air-line” route between Kansas City and Chicago. The bridge opened to rail traffic in December 1887, and Fort Madison subsequently became a major rail center in southeastern Iowa. It was replaced in 1927 with the current Fort Madison Toll Bridge, considered the longest double-deck swing-span bridge in the world. Amtrak’s Southwest Chief crosses it on the way to and from the station.
In addition to the depot complex, the town’s railroad connections are represented by Santa Fe Caboose No. 235. Donated to the NLCHS, it has been restored and includes the brakemen seats, conductor’s desk, folding seat/beds and a cast iron stove. Nearby, more than 100 freight trains a day still pass through Fort Madison.
Image: City of Fort Madison, Photo by Mark Bousselot
Station Building (with waiting room)
- ATM not available
- No elevator
- No payphones
- No Quik-Trak kiosks
- Unaccompanied child travel not allowed
- Vending machines
- No WiFi
- Arrive at least 45 minutes prior to departure if you're checking baggage or need ticketing/passenger assistance
- Arrive at least 30 minutes prior to departure if you're not checking baggage or don't need assistance
- Amtrak Express shipping not available
- No checked baggage service
- No checked baggage storage
- Bike boxes not available
- No baggage carts
- Ski bags not available
- No bag storage
- Shipping boxes not available
- No baggage assistance
- Same-day parking is available; fees may apply
- Overnight parking is available; fees may apply
- No payphones
- Accessible platform
- Accessible restrooms
- Accessible ticket office
- Accessible waiting room
- No accessible water fountain
- Same-day, accessible parking is available; fees may apply
- Overnight, accessible parking is available; fees may apply
- No high platform
- Wheelchair available
- Wheelchair lift available
Station Waiting Room Hours
|Mon||10:00 am - 01:00 pm|
04:30 pm - 07:15 pm
|Tue||10:00 am - 01:00 pm|
04:30 pm - 07:15 pm
|Wed||10:00 am - 01:00 pm|
04:30 pm - 07:15 pm
|Thu||10:00 am - 01:00 pm|
04:30 pm - 07:15 pm
|Fri||10:00 am - 01:00 pm|
04:30 pm - 07:15 pm
|Sat||10:00 am - 01:00 pm|
04:30 pm - 07:15 pm
|Sun||10:00 am - 01:00 pm|
04:30 pm - 07:15 pm
Ticket Office Hours
Passenger Assistance Hours
Checked Baggage Service