Take the Grand Canyon Railway to the historic train depot in Grand Canyon National Park and experience the unique architectural design of the only operating log depot in the United States.

Designed by architect and Santa Barbara, California native Francis W. Wilson, the Grand Canyon Train Depot is one of fourteen log depots ever constructed in the United States and is now one of only three remaining. Out of these, the Grand Canyon Depot is the only one built mainly from logs and the only one still operating today. The building features a central two-story section and a wing on each side one-story in height. The unique design of the wood—three flat sides and one rounded—allowed the building to give off a frontier appearance while keeping out moisture and maintaining structural integrity. The original copper lettering on the front spelled out “Grand Canon,” but workers replaced it in 1911 to spell “Grand Canyon.” Between the late-1920s and mid-1950s the depot underwent structural and functional renovations which added office space and upgraded lighting.

Before 1901, a trip to the Grand Canyon required a bumpy, sixty-five-mile stagecoach ride on dirt roads to reach the South Rim. To rectify this—and simultaneously capitalize on interest to the park—in 1901, the Santa Fe Railway built a line of tracks connecting their depot in Williams, Arizona to what would become Grand Canyon Village. Instead of going by stagecoach, visitors to the Grand Canyon could ride the train and relax while enjoying the view on the way to one of the greatest natural wonders in the world.

The arrival of the railroad in 1901 shifted the tourist experience to what became the Grand Canyon Village. In 1905, the Santa Fe Railroad completed the El Tovar Hotel between the track and the canyon. Santa Fe then partnered with the Fred Harvey Company and the National Park Service to add more buildings to accommodate the growing number of tourists, including Hopi House, Bright Angel Lodge, and the Red Horse Cabin. Architect Mary Jane Colter designed many of these structures.

Popularity for the railroad dwindled as the automobile industry grew, however; in 1968, the Grand Canyon Railway made its final passenger run, and the Santa Fe Railway left the buildings it owned to the National Park Service. Freight transportation continued on the line, but soon after, in 1972, the railway discontinued passenger services to the Grand Canyon. In 1989 the formation of the Grand Canyon Railway revived the route when entrepreneurs Max and Thelma Biegert funded the restoration of the Grand Canyon Line: tourists once again could travel to the park by train. For visitors today, the station represents the idea of western national parks as rustic and scenic. Often the first experience guests have when they step off the train, the depot remains one of the best structures from the National Park’s rustic period.

Images

The depot in 1975
The depot in 1975 A front view of the magnificent log Grand Canyon Depot. The El Tovar hotel sits in the back on the rim of the canyon. The building is an excellent example of rustic architecture using naturally sourced wood and constructing the building mostly by hand. Source:

“Railroad Depot, Grand Canyon, Coconino County, AZ.” James W. Rosenthal, 1975. In Historic American Buildings Survey, courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/az0025.photos.008772p/.

The depot today
The depot today This 2019 view provides a closer look at the hand cut logs used for the depot and how leaving the outer edge rounded gave the traditional appearance of a log cabin. Shingles on the roof and upper floor have been replaced due to damage. Source:

“Grand Canyon Village-Grand Canyon Railroad Depot-1901-1.” Tony Santiago (alias Marine 69-71), January 26, 2019. Via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grand_Canyon_Village-Grand_Canyon_Railroad_Depot-1901-1.jpg.

Railway map
Railway map This map from 1919 shows the route of the Santa Fe Railroad running between Williams, Arizona, and the Grand Canyon Village and the Grand Canyon Railroad station in the newly established national park. Source:

“Grand Canyon Railway Depot.” 1919. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, via Yolonda Youngs, Nature, Culture, and History at the Grand Canyon. https://grcahistory.org/sites/south-rim/grand-canyon-railway-depot/.

Advertising the Grand Canyon Railway
Advertising the Grand Canyon Railway A Santa Fe Railroad advertisement that appeared in the February 1, 1908 issue of the magazine Harper’s Weekly. Source:

Santa Fe Railroad magazine advertisement. In Harper’s Weekly, February 1, 1908, page 3. Courtesy of Grand Canyon National Park Museum Collection, via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). https://www.flickr.com/photos/grand_canyon_nps/4682590139/.

Location

Grand Canyon Village, AZ 86023

Metadata

Jennifer John, Northern Arizona University, “Grand Canyon Depot,” Intermountain Histories, accessed May 18, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/603.