The Repository @ St. Cloud State

Open Access Knowledge and Scholarship

Date of Award


Culminating Project Type


Degree Name

History: M.A.




College of Liberal Arts

First Advisor

Don Hofsommer

Second Advisor

William Morgan

Third Advisor

Lew Wixon

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Keywords and Subject Headings

South Dakota, History, Railroad Depots, Historic Preservation, Historic Rehabilitation


This study traces tire architectural .and social evolution of passenger depots in South Dakota from 1873 to 2006. This evolution is broken down into four stages: development and expansion; prominence and significance; abandonment and deterioration; preservation and rehabilitation.

The first stage, development and expansion, reviews the development of railroads as a primary transportation system and the expansion of that system across the United States and particularly South Dakota. Deficiencies in earlier transportation methods, including stagecoach, horseback, canals, and steamboat, contributed to the emergence and rapid growth of railroads. As railroads ·expanded, they became critical factors in settlement, community development and decline, and the everyday lives of South Dakotans.

The prominence and significance of South Dakota's depots during the heyday of railroad activity makes up the second stage of this' study. Architecturally, depots were initially small, simple buildings, often converted box cars that served primarily railroad functions. But as railroads and communities developed, depots also became more significant, both architecturally and socially. Functions and activities entirely unrelated to the railroad started occurring at the local depot and led to them becoming epicenters of community activity.

Factors that contributed to the decline in railroad travel, especially the development of transportation alternatives, gave impetus to the third stage, the abandonment, deterioration, and demolition of depots statewide. As automobiles and buses along improved highway systems, and the growing airline industry began to negatively impact railroad travel, the prominence of the local depot also began to decline. Line abandonments and station closures led to hundreds of depots, primarily smaller woodframe depots, to be sold, moved, left to deteriorate, or demolished from the 1960s through the 1980s.

Finally, for those that survived the third stage, the fourth stage consisted of the preservation and rehabilitation of South Dakota's depots. The rampant deterioration and demolition of depots during the third stage sparked this final stage. For a variety of reasons/ including preserving history or economics, people began to rehabilitate them into a wide range of new functions, including restaurants, public or private offices, and museums. A nationwide framework and ethic for historic preservation created by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 contributed to this preservation. While railroads initially responded with skeptit ism toward preservation efforts, primarily J:>ecause of.the perception of restrictions being placed on their property, some railroads began to support and contribute to such projects.


Special thanks to the South Dakota State Archives staff, Don Hofsommer and the thesis committee, and most importantly to my wife Marie for her love, patience, and encouragement.

Included in

History Commons



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