On May 27, 2010, the Westcliffe Denver & Rio Grande Depot was officially listed on the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties. A true railroad town, Westcliffe came into being when the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad decided to build the standard gauge line to the land they owned west of Silver Cliff. This combination-style depot — housing the passenger and freight areas, the station office, and station agent residence — operated from 1901-1938. During that time the depot stood as a landmark at the edge of town and served as the gateway for all forms of commerce.
When the railroad closed operations in 1938, the station agent transformed the former depot into a residence and workshop. During this time, the owner changed the look of the building from the classical D&RG yellow and brown to a white with green-trim color scheme. For over half a century, residents and visitors to Westcliffe simply knew this building as a home at the edge of town. In an effort to reclaim and share the town’s railroad heritage, a community group called All Aboard Westcliffe (AAW) created a railroad museum a block away from the depot, hoping one day that they could acquire the former railroad station.
Working with a new owner, AAW prepared the State Register nomination and began a process of discovering the depot’s hidden history. Under layers of vinyl and aluminum siding they found historic windows and wood siding, including wainscoting that encircled the building. After learning that the building was listed on the State Register, they forged ahead with repairing decayed wood and covered the exterior with primer in preparation for a return of the traditional D&RG signature colors.
Their preservation work has helped to spread the word about the building’s State Register status, piqued interest in Westcliffe’s railroad history, and highlighted their efforts to raise funds and purchase the building. Concealed beneath contemporary construction materials, AAW was able to uncover and resurrect a historic building while also creating community and tourist interest in a piece of the past that had been hidden in plain sight. By saving a building, they’ve also saved a powerful part of the story of Westcliffe.
Heather L. Bailey, Ph.D.
State & National Register Historian