Montrose D&RG Depot Celebrates Centennial Birthday

by Kati O'Hare
Aug 06, 2012 | 2341 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BOSLERS POLAR ICE BUGGY –  On display at the Montrose County Historical Society Museum in Montrose. Boslers' ice, using water from the Uncompahgre River, was known as "dirty ice." (Photo by Kati O'Hare)
BOSLERS POLAR ICE BUGGY –  On display at the Montrose County Historical Society Museum in Montrose. Boslers' ice, using water from the Uncompahgre River, was known as "dirty ice." (Photo by Kati O'Hare)

MONTROSE – Swinging open the heavy doors of the D&RG Depot 100 years ago and buying a ticket, visitors would then enter one of two rooms on either side of the ticket counter to wait for their train.

Women and families socialized, in the room on the left, and men smoked cigars and read the news in the room on the right (with, it is rumored, an underground tunnel from the men's quarters may have led to the brothel, across the street).

Today, the same doors provide entry, but a different scene awaits, chronicling the city’s rich history, and the stories of the people who came here to find a new life in agriculture, mining and politics.

That history is on display for the public through the summer months. But on Saturday, Aug. 11, the depot will come alive with events, vendors, music and other entertainment as it celebrates its centennial.

In 1881, the United States military had finished its removal of the Ute Indians from the Uncompaghre Valley, and the following year, the D&RG Rail Road started to clear a way through the West, bringing a narrow gauge rail service to the area, according to the Montrose County Historical Society.

Narrow gauge railroad tracks –  3 feet apart rather than the standard 4 feet, 8 inches – were perfect for the mountainous areas between Denver and Salt Lake City, and the mining camps in Ouray and San Miguel counties were eager to embrace the new mode of transportation.

Traffic through Montrose, both freight and passenger, increased so much, in those early days, that the old original wooden depot building on North First Street was no longer sufficient.

In 1912, the current depot building was erected for $15,000, along the railroad – consisting of both narrow and standard gauge tracks – just off of the town's Main Street.

It was a place where Montrose shipped and received goods, welcomed visitors and sent its young off to school and to war, according to the historical society.

It continued as a train depot until it had brought home the last of the area's soldiers in the 1950s, and was deeded to the City of Montrose in 1973, serving for several years as a bus station and home of the Montrose County Historical Society.

The bus service, like the passenger train service that came before it, left Montrose, but the building continues to serve the community as a museum. It has a rich history, within its walls, telling stories of hard times and hard work, as well as stories of art, society and fashion.

Inside the station’s women's waiting quarters are the offices of the historical society, and the historical accounting of museum artifacts, 90 percent of which come from Montrose County.

In the old ticket office, visitors can view artifacts from the Gunnison Tunnel, from original survey equipment to a worker's lunch pail to a huge collection of photos. It is here that the railroad materials and pictures of what used to be are displayed, including photos of the Vandeburg Hotel located across the street, and the Belvedere Hotel around the corner (that burned down during a firemen's ball).

A display in the depot’s gentlemen's quarters depicts the building’s history, as well as equipment from the former Western Colorado Power Company.

The depot's freight room still has a working scale – a fun instrument for young visitors, Museum Coordinator Sally Johnson said.

The train still passes by the museum on Friday afternoons, and Johnson spends an hour or two wiping off the coal dust that collects on the display cases from the rumbling of the tracks.

Back when it was a working depot, it was a one-story building,with tall ceilings and glass windows to let in light that can still be seen from the outside. But today, a drop ceiling  and a second floor have been added, to accommodate the museum.

Upstairs are several displays chronicling the lives of settlers, including toys, musical instruments, and the history of Judge John Gray's family, whose three daughters played a big part in Montrose's early performing arts community.

Farming and mining equipment are arranged throughout the museum yard; a Cowboy Line Cabin, originally located in Cerise Park, and the Lashley Cabin, built in 1893, stand along the fence line of the property.

The original stagecoach that traveled between Montrose to Durango and the Boslers Polar Ice buggy are there for visitors to see.

And as part of the 100 year celebration, visitors will get to learn about the area's railroad history from storyteller and impersonator Steve Lee, who will portray Otto Mears.

Mears is said to have made the most significant contributions of any single person to western Colorado's early settlement; a politician, newspaper founder, mining financier, Ute Indian commissioner and transportation entrepreneur, he built hundreds of miles of toll roads and the narrow gauge Rio Grande Southern Railroad from Ridgway to Durango, by way of Telluride, Rico and Dolores.

The Otto Mears program takes place Saturday, Aug. 11, at 7 p.m., on Rio Grande Avenue in front of the museum.

But the celebration of the depot starts much earlier, with a walk/run at 7:30 a.m., followed by a pancake breakfast at 8 a.m. The museum will be open to the public all day for a small fee, and the festivities include a classic car show, clowns, balloons, face painting, vendors, food and music. The North Fork Ambulance Service also will have barrel train rides for children.

For more information, call the museum at 249-2085.

Kati O'Hare at or tweet @katiohare

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