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History of Downtown Leavenworth Driving Tour
Item 6 of 15

Built in the Richardsonian-Romanesque style, construction on the Union Depot Station began in 1886 and continued until completion in January of 1888, although the station did not open for use until November of that year due to disputes on apportionment of funds between the participating railroads. The architectural style is especially noteworthy as the project began in very close proximity to the death of the great American architect Henry Hobbs Richardson, whose work was widely influential following his death, making the station an excellent example of an important style of the time period. The main champion of the project was the Union Pacific Railroad line but others like the Missouri Pacific, Santa Fe, and the Chicago & Rock Island line were also involved. The building served its original purpose as a train station until 1963, at which time it was purchased by V.B. Greenamyre and used mainly as office and warehouse space for Besel’s Heating and Air. It was added to the national register of historic places in 1982, and converted to its current form, a community center, 1988.

A Postcard of the Old Union Depot

Cloud, Building, Sky, House

To fully understand the importance of the Union Depot Station to Leavenworth it is important to look at other events, specifically in railroad development, that occurred in preceding years. Namely, the competition in the railroad industry between Kansas City and Leavenworth. Leavenworth had been the preeminent city in Kansas, and held greater importance than Kansas City, until Kansas City won out over Leavenworth in getting a key rail bridge in 1867, and since then Kansas City had forged ahead, according to the Leavenworth Board of trade, by 1870 in replacing Leavenworth as the most important of the rail hubs on the Missouri River. 

The building of the Depot represented hope for a return to rail prominence for the citizens of Leavenworth, and that hope was reflected clearly in the Leavenworth Times newspaper. In a January 1887 article titled “Our Prospects” the Times predicts “our factories and coal mining will triple this year” as result of the depot and even directly acknowledges the disadvantage the town is at for not having a rail bridge, saying the citizens of the city should make every sacrifice necessary to secure it. The Times predicted that, with a railroad bridge and the Depot, the city would soon pass a population of 100,000. The citizens of Leavenworth were equally as enthusiastic, showing their support for the Depot by voting overwhelmingly in favor (1455 to 78) of a referendum on a tax increase that would help bring in a rail line critical to the survival of the project. Unfortunately for Leavenworth, the growth they hoped for never came to fruition, and Kansas City continued to outpace Leavenworth to become the metropolitan center it is today. 

An interesting wrinkle in the story of the Depot are some of the hiccups that occurred along the way for the project, including the ten-month gap between the completion of construction on the building and the actual opening for use. This gap was the result of a disagreement over expenses between the railroad lines, with the Missouri Pacific specifically dragging its feet. Eventually, the state board of trade attempted to step in: “a special meeting was called to consider how to force the station company to open it, the railroads having been unable to reach an agreement on the apportionment of expenses. It was decided at this meeting to place the whole affair before the State Board of Railroad Commissioners. The station was opened shortly thereafter” this is according to the Leavenworth Board of Trade’s own records, and they go on to say, “From a study of the proceedings one may fairly assume that the board of trade should be given considerable credit for securing the station for the city”. However, the application for the building to be placed on the national historic register says the Missouri Pacific refused arbitration from the Railroad Commissioner's board and instead gives credit to depot company director Len Smith who informed the Missouri Pacific the project would proceed with or without them. Although the historical record is unclear on the resolution of this conflict, there was actually an even more bizarre roadblock two years prior. In a September 1, 1886 article, the Leavenworth Times states that Leavenworth Mayor Shaw Neely is an agent for the Missouri Pacific line and attempting to obstruct the building of the depot by “covert means and false pretenses”. While no other sources corroborate this claim, in fact the records of the board of trade indicate, at least as of 1883, that Neely was an enthusiastic supporter of the project, if true it gives some interesting insight to the intensity of the rivalry between railroads in the area at the time. 

Barnes, Lela. “The Leavenworth Board of Trade 1882-1892". Kansas Memory. Kansas Historical Society. The Leavenworth Board of Trade 1882-1892 - Kansas Historical Society ( 

“Kansas SP Old Union Depot.” National Archives Catalog. Accessed 10/28/2022. Kansas SP Old Union Depot ( 

“The Union Depot” The Leavenworth Daily Times. Sep 1, 1886. 

“Our Prospects”. Leavenworth Daily Times. Jan 9, 1887. 

"Union Depot, Leavenworth Kansas”. Kansas Memory. Kansas Historical Society. Accessed 10/28/2022. Union Depot, Leavenworth, Kansas - Kansas Memory - Kansas Historical Society ( 

Image Sources(Click to expand)

"Union Depot, Leavenworth Kansas”. Kansas Memory. Kansas Historical Society. Accessed 10/28/2022. Union Depot, Leavenworth, Kansas - Kansas Memory - Kansas Historical Society (