1968 home video shows demolition of Brainerd’s railway depot
The demolition of the second depot building, first erected in 1920, took place nearly a century after the first one was built.
BRAINERD — Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the second Northern Pacific railway depot officially opened for business three years after the first depot in Brainerd burned to the ground.
But in 1968, the depot building, located at the intersection of South Sixth and Washington streets, met its demise as it was torn down to make way for a strip mall. Earlier this month, home videos of the demolition resurfaced on a Facebook group focused on Brainerd lakes area history.
Carl Faust, a local historian, said a man whose father took footage of historic events in the city during the 1960s and ‘70s contacted him to ask if he’d be interested in viewing the movies, which were being converted to digital.
“Naturally, I told him to SEND AWAY! It turns out I knew this videographer from years ago, or at least knew of him and who he was,” Faust wrote. “The person converting the films to digital was John McCarthy, son of Frank McCarthy, whom many of you may remember as one of our local Minnesota State Highway Patrolmen.”
The demolition of the second depot building took place nearly a century after the first one was built. The first railway station was built in 1872 and had an estimated value of about $27,000. The two-story building consisted of the waiting rooms, ticket office, yardmaster’s office, and express and baggage department on the first floor of the 40-by-80-foot building.
The second floor was occupied by the general offices of the Minnesota and International Railroad, but the fire was believed to have originated in the ladies’ waiting room; it was initially believed to be put out with fire extinguishers, but flames later shot up to the roof.
Brainerd’s second Northern Pacific railway depot was constructed with brick at a cost of about $100,000. The three-story building officially opened on May 15, 1920.
The 162-by-40-foot structure with a full basement and covered platforms at either end was occupied by the Northern Pacific, and Minnesota and International railway offices among others.
“It was declared one of the best depots on the whole Northern Pacific railway system,” according to Ann M. Nelson, a local historian who has written extensively about Northern Pacific Railway buildings.
The general contractors for the second depot in Brainerd were McManis & Tarnoski of St. Paul and thought was put into the decor, much like the first depot, with its Italian-style architecture complete with turrets and grand tower.
“The floor was of reddish quarry tile, the wainscoting was of a mosaic of terra cotta shade resembling that used in all station terminals in New York, the walls were a buff shade and the ceiling, ornamentally beamed, was of a cream shade,” Nelson said of the second depot.
According to Nelson, an 18-by-40-foot women's waiting room with toilet was located at the east end of the depot, and on the opposite side was a 16-by-16-foot men's smoking room with toilet. In the center of the building was the main waiting room with a caged ticket office, paneled in oak sides.
“The second and third floors housed the Minnesota & International railway forces. The rooms were finished in birch with tinted walls,” Nelson wrote about the second depot that housed the dispatchers’ office in the center of the building, overlooking the tracks.
Other offices were the bulletin room, yard clerk, roadmaster, superintendent tie treating plant and private office, general manager clerks’ office, general manager’s private office, trainmaster, car clerk, engineer of bridges and buildings, etc.
The third floor had six offices and a large attic for storing at the east and west ends of the building, Nelson wrote of the second passenger depot, which formally opened May 15, 1920.
“Situated in the heart of Brainerd, easy of access, Brainerd’s new depot gives the visitor in Brainerd a good impression, for her, he reasons, is a live, progressive city and a railway which favors a town with depot accommodations to match up to its importance,” according to the May 15, 1920, edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch.
Brick platforms in front of the depot measured 50 feet wide and beyond the building 16 feet wide with a total length of 600 feet. Another platform of brick extended between the first and second tracks and measured 600 feet long by 16 feet wide.
“There were also platforms under the covered sections at the east and west ends of the depot and also around the depot,” according to Nelson.
In the basement was the steam heating plant, and attachment could be made at the west end to heat coaches in the yards, Nelson wrote, and there were coal storage facilities, stationery storage, vault room, and pipe tunnels all around the building.
“As the special train of five coaches bearing (Northern Railway) President J.M. Hannaford and party entered Brainerd, whistles roared a welcome, the crowds cheered and the Brainerd Municipal Band played,” according to the May 17, 1920, edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch.
The publication stated the second depot was budgeted at about $86,000, but higher costs and material betterments planned brought the cost of the new depot to about $166,000.
“The depot was gaily decorated with flags and the interior was beautiful with cut flowers and ferns. The city itself was gay with bunting and flags, even the water tower carrying the American colors,” according to the newspaper’s account of the opening day ceremony.
The depot, however, was razed by the Northern Pacific on Oct. 15, 1968, to make way for a strip mall, but not before making lasting memories for those who were alive at the time to see it.
“We had a lot of fun hanging around the depot and seeing the passengers get on and off,” Faust wrote on his website.