Lamar, CO (LMR)
Lying south of the Arkansas River, Lamar grew into an important agricultural and ranching community with the arrival of the Santa Fe Railway in the late 19th century. The historic depot houses a Colorado Visitors Center and the local chamber of commerce.
109 E. Beech Street
Lamar, CO 81052
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2022): 915
- Facility Ownership: City of Lamar
- Parking Lot Ownership: City of Lamar
- Platform Ownership: BNSF Railway
- Track Ownership: BNSF Railway
The Amtrak stop in Lamar consists of a platform next to the restored 1907 brick depot, which now houses the local chamber of commerce and a Colorado Visitors Center.
Lamar lies on the eastern plains of Colorado south of the Arkansas River. When the first Europeans arrived, the region was contested by the Jicarilla Apache and Comanche American Indians. The former had pursued agriculture along the river, growing staples such as beans, corn and squash. The United States gained possession of what is now eastern Colorado through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
For traders and settlers in the first half of the 19th century who followed the Santa Fe Trail connecting the American Midwest with Santa Fe, in what was then northern Mexico, the Lamar area was part of what was known as “Big Timbers” – stands of giant cottonwoods that followed the winding river for nearly 45 miles. The towering trees provided welcome shelter and a resting place. By the middle of the century, European-American settlers began to come in search of ranch and agricultural lands.
The arrival of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway – commonly known as the “Santa Fe” – in 1873 would open the region to greater trade opportunities and settlement. A station was established in Lamar in 1886 following a disagreement between local landowner and cattleman Amos R. Black and town promotors with ties to the railroad’s Santa Fe Land Company who wanted to attract homesteaders to the area. The Santa Fe had been given millions of acres in the West by the federal government to support railroad construction, and the Santa Fe in turn sold land to attract settlers who would then become its customers.
Black owned a large ranch that straddled both sides of the railroad, including a site where the Santa Fe had erected a wood depot with vertical board and batten siding and a gabled roof; stock yard siding; water tower; and other structures. Located about three miles east of present-day Lamar, the station was known as “Blackwell” – a combination of the family names “Black” and “McDowell.” The McDowells lived on Black’s property, where J.A. McDowell was the ranch foreman; his wife subsequently became the station agent and served as postmaster.
Black refused to make land available for a townsite around the Blackwell station, and the railroad and town promoters then threatened to relocate it. While Black was in the process of obtaining an injunction to keep the station at Blackwell, he was called away from the ranch – perhaps under false pretenses – for a few days in May 1886. With their main obstacle gone, the Santa Fe lifted the wood depot onto a flatbed car and moved it down the rail line to the new Lamar townsite. According to local accounts, station agent McDowell and her children remained in the depot while it rode the rails west! Crews also dismantled the rest of the outbuildings and loaded up the foundation stones and brought everything to Lamar to be reassembled.
The young community was named for Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, the secretary of the interior under President Grover Cleveland. On May 24, an excursion train from Garden City, Kan., brought a load of prospective buyers interested in settling the fertile valley. Through the developers’ promotion and fanfare, and establishment of a federal land office, Lamar thrived, attracting 500 residents within two months. Freighting goods from trains in Lamar to communities located further south became a vital part of the growing economy in southeastern Colorado. By the end of the 19th century, the town could boast the second largest flour mill in the state and a sugar beet factory – both supplied by the productive farms of the Arkansas River Valley.
Although the depot survived its hasty move from Blackwell to Lamar, it only stood at its new site for two years before it caught fire and burned to the ground. It was quickly replaced by a wood combination depot – which included freight and passenger services under one roof – south of the tracks and on the west side of Main Street. This building was in use until the current red brick depot opened to passengers in May 1907 on the other side of Main Street. Brick was not only more fire resistant in the days of coal and wood-fired engines, it was a sign of permanence and thus Lamar’s importance to the Santa Fe. At that time, the adjacent railyards were expanded, and the second depot was moved to the north side of the tracks and given over to freight use only; it stood until 1979.
The new, third depot was built to a standard plan used in other communities along the Santa Fe lines at the beginning of the 20th century, including Garden City, which is also served by Amtrak. Its low slung, horizontal orientation was in line with then-popular Prairie School architecture that emphasized a connection to the land. A hipped, red tile roof (now red metal shaped to imitate tile) with deep eaves sheltered passengers from inclement weather and heat while they waited on the platform. Limestone is used as an accent and is found in the lintels above the windows, as well as in the sill course and watercourse that wrap around the building, further emphasizing the horizontal axis. Diamond-patterned divided lights in the upper sashes of the windows also point to the Prairie School influence.
Trackside, the main part of the building has a projecting three-sided bay that originally contained the ticket office; from the windows that looked out onto the platform and the tracks, the station master could monitor rail traffic. Large windows allowed ample natural light to brighten passenger areas, including the waiting room that had a three-sided bay overlooking a small park. These public areas featured wooden baseboards, chair rails, and door and window trim. At the northeastern end of the depot is a smaller wing that contained the baggage and express shipping rooms. Tall doors allowed carts laden with crates and packages to be rolled directly between the train and the depot for easier handling.
The city acquired the depot and undertook an extensive rehabilitation project in 1991 to adapt the building to its current use as office and community space. In recognition of its historic integrity and role in the life of Lamar, the depot was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2019.
The depot sits back from the traditional central business district running along Main Street (Hwy 287), whose landmarks include the exuberant Lamar Theater. An Art Deco showpiece with a colorful marquee whose neon lights illuminate the night sky, it has been welcoming movie-goers since 1946. A block and half north, at the corner of Main and Beech Streets on the western edge of the depot grounds, stands an 18-foot high “Madonna of the Trail” statue.
It depicts a pioneer mother with a young boy holding onto her apron, a baby in one arm and a rifle in the other. Erected by the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution in the late 1920s, it is one of a dozen identical statues stretching from coast-to-coast in commemoration of the contributions made by courageous pioneer women as the nation moved westward. The statues were placed along the route of the National Old Trails Road, and like Lamar’s, traditionally faced westward.
Just east of the Madonna of the Trail statue, also on the depot grounds, is Santa Fe locomotive No. 1819, a windmill and a water tank. Although none are original to the site, they reflect the region’s railroading history, as steam engines needed to refill their water tanks at regular intervals in order to produce steam. The locomotive, built in 1906, was used in Santa Fe freight and passenger service until it was retired in 1953.
Lamar, the seat of Prowers County, is the largest community in the surrounding five-county region. Served by passenger and freight rail and located at the crossing of Highways 50 and 287, the town remains an agricultural and ranching center. Each winter, birders flock to Lamar for the High Plains Snow Goose Festival to observe these migrating birds. The event includes tours, an arts and crafts fair and more.
Image: Amtrak/Marc Glucksman.
Platform only (no shelter)
- ATM not available
- No elevator
- No payphones
- No Quik-Trak kiosks
- No Restrooms
- Unaccompanied child travel not allowed
- No vending machines
- No WiFi
- Arrive at least 0 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
- No accessible restrooms
- No accessible ticket office
- No 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
- No wheelchair
- Wheelchair lift available