The railroad and the depots that served it were probably the most important features of Gothenburg, for without them, the town would have died before it even got a start as so many villages did. Just a dream of what could have been.
People didn’t have the fine roads and speedy vehicles they do now, only a horse and buggy or a team of horses and wagon to haul freight. All the materials needed to survive on the plains came in by train, and all the products produced on this fertile land went out the same way. Many of the people who settled here also arrived by train along with all their worldly possessions. It was the lifeline of the community.
According to the Union Pacific records, the section of railroad which included the area of Gothenburg was inspected and accepted November 1866 with rail probably laid sometime that year.
Gothenburg was platted by UP surveyors in 1882, 4 blocks long and 2 blocks wide. The first depot was built on Avenue G in 1884-85. It was used until January 1900 when a new and larger depot was put into use on the north side of the tracks two blocks further west looking straight down what is now Lake Avenue, then called Winchell Street. It was said that it was a grand and imposing building with fine amenities. The Avenue G depot was subsequently moved to Willow Island and used for many years. It was eventually moved to the Dawson County Historical Museum in Lexington.
The September 9, 1899 Gothenburg Independent reported special rates to Omaha September 12, 13 and 14 of $6.00 for the round trip, limited to five days from date of sale. Also reported by the Independent was “If it were not for the favoritism of the Union Pacific and Gothenburg’s location, at a point midway between Lexington and North Platte, making it a convenient place for trainmen to receive orders, Gothenburg would soon sink to a point comparable with Willow Island.”
The main crossing was eventually moved to Lake Avenue in 1940 causing the need to move the depot to the west a little more than the length of the building.
To accommodate the many people coming and going, a passenger shed and waiting room were built in 1912 south of the tracks. There were also the coal chutes and water tanks to handle refueling of the big engines. By 1960 diesel engines had taken over and the coal powered engines were being retired.
As with everything, time changes all things and the depot was no longer a necessity. Union Pacific gave Gothenburg the option of moving the depot or they would demolish it. In 1976 a group, spearheaded by Jerry Aden, raised the money needed to move the depot to its new location just east of Lafayette Park. Local folks were determined to save a piece of history that held so many memories.
Stories have been told of kids who lived on the south side of the railroad tracks would walk as far as the depot on cold winter days and stop in to warm up on their way to and from school. How many sweethearts said their goodbye’s in the depot as their loved ones went off to war? They say that when the wind blows you can hear the whistles of long-ago trains. What are some of the stories you recall?
Unfortunately, all the hard work of individuals to save the depot were for naught. It would sit empty from 1976 until 1984 when two enterprising women opened a gift/craft shop called The Country Depot. After 13 years it closed in 1997. Later it would be home to a pre-school and is currently housing a co-op run by the Brethern Fellowship.
Falling into disrepair, the City Council is contemplating the future of the old building; should it be improved to be ADA compliant with a costly price tag or should it be removed. It would be sad to see it go, but it is also sad to see it continue to suffer from neglect. It’s a hard question to answer.
Four persons were killed and twenty-two injured when an eastbound train collided with a second train that had stopped for passengers, water and coal at the Gothenburg depot during a raging snow storm. At 3:37 a.m. on March 14, 1913 the collision occurred during one of the worst storms in 25 years with high winds at 50-mile-per-hour, blowing snow and very poor visibility.
The first train, Number 4, had just taken on passengers and water and was being backed up a few feet to take on coal, when Number 12 smashed into the last cars, killing four passengers. Number 12 plowed through the rear Pullman car reducing the car to splinters and breaking it in half. The fire bell and whistles brought a number of firemen and others to the scene within minutes.
Fourteen passengers, the conductor and porter, were in the rear Pullman and all were either injuaed or killed. Killed were a traveling salesman from New York, a husband and wife from Iowa and a woman from Cheyenne, Wyoming.
A relief train was sent from North Platte and arrived at daylight. With a few exceptions, the injuries were not serious and all were reported improving when they left. One of the injured was cared for at the home of Dr. Bartholomew until the relief train arrived.
The coroner and County Attorney concluded that an extra-ordinary blizzard was prevailing and that all the safety appliances were operating perfectly at the time of the collision. An investigation placed the blame on the engineer of Number 12 who failed to heed the block signals and place his train under control after passing the second block signal west of the Gothenburg depot. The engineer testified that he saw the second block signal west of the station, but did not see the first one at all. Not seeing the first signal, he maintained his usual running speed of twenty-miles-per-hour when he hit the stopped train.