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.