Old Depot Museum
Built in 1888, this stone depot was designed by local architect George Washburn and built by the Southern Kansas Railroad, who almost immediately sold it to the Santa Fe. The depot became a division headquarters and once included a 13-stall roundhouse, freight depot, and Railway Express Agency. After seven decades of service, the depot was donated to the Franklin County Historical Society, who uses the building to share the history of Franklin County and the story of railroads in small towns.
Backstory and Context
After its construction in 1888, the Santa Fe bought the Southern Kansas line and the depot became a Santa Fe Division Headquarters. The depot included a 13-stall roundhouse where engines were repaired, a freight depot, and a Railway Express Agency (an express shipping service). Unfortunately, before the levy system was installed, the depot was at the mercy of the Marais des Cygnes River, which flooded frequently. As the need for passenger service declined, the 1888 depot fell out of use, and passenger service moved to a smaller building north of town before being discontinued entirely.
In 1962, the depot was donated to the Franklin County Historical Society, which reopened the depot's doors in 1963 as the Old Depot Museum. In 1996, the Franklin County Historical Society received an ISTEA grant, and the building underwent major rehabilitation before reopening in 1999. The two-story museum includes exhibits on Native American tribes, the Pottawatomie Massacre, the exaggerated photography of William "Dad" Martin, local industry, and historic examples of daily life in Franklin County (a turn-of-the-century general store, farm kitchen, Victorian parlor, soda fountain). One entire room is dedicated to an HO-scale model railroad layout designed to replicate the sites of 1950s Franklin County. Our one-room school exhibit also serves as the setting for our One-Room School Program, where students are invited to dress in pinafores and suspenders and experience a day in school--complete with academic, behavioral, and recreational expectations--just as a child would have in 1915.
Just outside the depot is a 1940s caboose, which was donated to the Franklin County Historical Society in 2012. Old Depot Museum staff members can unlock the caboose for visitors when weather permits.
The large first-floor gallery features temporary exhibits. Recent exhibits have included historic Franklin County photographers, Franklin County's contribution to World War I, Fred Harvey and the history of the Harvey Houses, historic textiles, and the founding of Ottawa. In 2016, featured exhibits will include local quilts, the history of local baseball, and the history of fraternal organizations and secret societies in Franklin County.
The depot also hosts numerous events throughout the year. Most events are free and open to the public.The museum is a member of Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area.