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.
See the Smithsonian traveling exhibition Voices and Votes: Democracy in America and local exhibit Barely Made It: The Naked Voters and Other Franklin County Stories of Democracy at the Old Depot Museum August 19 - October 1, 2023. For exhibition and event details, contact the Franklin County Historical Society directly. Visit humanitieskansas.org for overview of the Kansas tour.
Originally a railroad depot for first the Southern Kansas and then the Santa Fe, the Old Depot Museum was built in 1888.
The HO-Scale Model Railroad exhibit was started during the 1960s. Many of the handcrafted structures, including the miniature depot and the buildings on Main Street, replicate structures in Franklin County.
Miniature of the Santa Fe Depot on the Model Railroad Exhibit layout.
The industry room features artifacts from many local companies, including machines built by Warner Manufacturing.
Turn-of-the-century general store.
Travel in time through the One-Room School program at the Old Depot Museum.
The 1940s caboose was donated to the Franklin County Historical Society in 2012.
Historic photo of the Santa Fe Depot, now the Old Depot Museum. Ca 1900.
Historic photo of the Santa Fe Depot, now the Old Depot Museum. 1912.
Backstory and Context
In 1868, the Leavenworth, Lawrence and Galveston (LL&G) became the first railroad to reach Ottawa, Kansas. Shortly thereafter, the line was sold to the Southern Kansas, who hired architect George Washburn to design the depot that still stands today. The building's stone was quarried in Cowley County, which is in southeast Kansas.
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.