1890 Buena Vista Depot will welcome travelers again-this time as a railroad museum
Nearly $225,000 in State Historical Fund grants helping turn the building into a community asset
The Buena Vista Depot, built as the Denver, Leadville and Gunnison Depot in 1890-91, is all that remains of the bustling railroad trade that helped develop that Chaffee County town. It was a combination depot, meaning that it handled both freight and passengers-as well as providing living quarters for the railroad engineer. It may be the last surviving Denver, Leadville and Gunnison Depot. The stout little building changed railroad company ownership several times until around 1910, when the track down Trout Creek near Buena Vista was washed out-effectively isolating Buena Vista from the rest of the line. The already-struggling railroad company lost money and ultimately the Buena Vista line was abandoned in 1924.
The depot was moved to become part of a rental cabins resort and in the 75 years that followed it was remodeled, added onto and covered with stucco. In 2002, the historic depot nearly met with the wrecking ball following a fire. Its owners donated it to the non-profit Buena Vista Heritage organization, which moved it to McPhelemy Park in the center of town. Buena Vista Heritage-with the support of the city, the county and local businesses-won a $105,000 State Historical Fund grant to restore the significant historic depot for future generations.
Work on the exterior of the building included roofing, reconstruction of the chimneys and platform, repair and restoration of the siding, and repair and restoration of windows and doors. Historic preservation professionals made sure the work was completed with the highest degree of historical accuracy. The paint color, a mono-chromatic dark red, was determined by microscopic analysis of the original paint. Missing freight doors were reconstructed according to standards set by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior-guidelines for the rehabilitation of historic buildings that the State Historical Fund's historic preservation specialists strive to meet. An important aspect of the Standards is to maintain each historic property so it is recognized as a physical record of its time, place, and use.
"Since the exact design of the original freight doors wasn't documented, we went with a new design that is compatible with the building but clearly differentiated from the existing historic features," said SHF historic preservation specialist Anne McCleave, who has worked on the depot project since it began. "The Standards are clear, that reconstructions should not create a false sense of history."
A subsequent State Historical Fund grant of nearly $109,000 will help fund Phase 2 of the project: restoring the interior of the depot as closely as possible to its original appearance. Once again the Buena Vista community has rallied to the cause of making the Buena Vista Depot a heritage tourism destination. This spring the depot's interior will be restored and characteristic features, such as the ticket window, will be replicated.
When the restoration is complete, the depot will be used as a railroad museum spotlighting the three railroads in the area's history: the Colorado Midland, Denver South Park & Pacific and Denver & Rio Grande. Visitors will learn about the significance of the railroads in Colorado's history in a historically accurate depot from the 1890s.
One hundred and eighteen years after it was built, the Buena Vista Depot will again greet travelers on their way through southwest Colorado. Quite a journey.
By Laurie Dunklee
State Historical Fund Public Relations Specialist