Sneak Peek: The Twin Ports Depots of the Omaha Road

The Omaha Road Passenger Station ca. 1946, photographer unknown. [Image: Dale Johnson]

The Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railroad (CStPMO, aka the “Omaha Road”) first arrived in the Twin Ports in 1885 and served Duluth and Superior providing both freight and passenger until 1961, after it had been absorbed by the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. Below is the history of the Omaha‘s passenger stations at the Head of the Lakes, a sneak peek from our forthcoming book Twin Ports Trains: The Historic Railroads of Duluth & Superior 1870–1970. Enjoy!

The Depots of the Omaha Road

The Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railroad (CStPMO, aka the “Omaha Road”) built several depots in the Twin Ports between 1885 and 1897. Most began as modest wooden facilities and were either replaced by brick-and-brownstone buildings or made larger with additions.

The first went up in 1884 in Superior to serve both passenger and freight service from the new terminal yard between Nineteenth and Twenty-Second Avenues East, which were then named Hollingshead and Nettleton Avenues, respectively. The original wooden building, called Nettleton Station, measured sixteen by fifty-four feet. In 1891 it was enlarged to twenty-four by sixty-four feet.

When the railroad began constructing its West Superior Yard in 1887, it built a passenger platform along Eighth Street between John and Ogden Streets. Two years later, after deciding against using Superior’s new Union Station, the Omaha knocked up a simple wooden depot measuring twenty-six by seventy-four feet on the same spot. In the meantime, the railroad had built another wooden passenger depot across the bay in Duluth at 232 South Fifth Avenue for its Fifth Avenue Yard. The Omaha built another depot in 1895 as part of its Itasca Yard. It measured twenty-four by forty-eight feet and stood two stories tall—the second floor was used for the railroad’s division offices but also served trainmen as a train-order station where orders and clearances were issued to passing trains, making it a very busy place.

By 1891 business had far outgrown the West Superior depot, so the railroad built the first of two Omaha passenger depots in the Twin Ports designed by noted Chicago architect Charles Sumner Frost. During his career Frost designed 127 buildings for the Omaha and the Chicago & Northwestern, and is best known for creating Chicago’s Navy Pier Auditorium. He also married the boss’s daughter, Mary Hughitt, whose father Marvin was the C&NW’s president (and the namesake of Superior’s Hughitt Avenue). So did his business partner, Alfred Hoyt Granger, who wed Mary’s sister Belle. Together the brothers-in-law ran the Chicago architectural firm of Frost & Granger, known for their railroad-related designs, including that city’s grand Chicago and North Western Terminal.

A vintage lithographic postcard (ca. 1905) of the CSt.PM&O‘s 1891 passenger depot in West Superior. [Image: Zenith City Press]

Frost’s depot in West Superior followed an English Revival design, with large dormers to accent its cruciform shape. Faced with brick and trimmed with brownstone, the building stood one hundred feet long and thirty feet wide and was connected to a matching baggage building about half its size with a contiguous slate roof. Inside, oak trimmed the plastered walls and maple covered the floors of the general and ladies waiting rooms, each thirty by forty feet separated by a central office and lavatories.

Frost used the English Revival style again in Duluth in 1897 to replace the 1885 depot at 200 Fifth Avenue West. The new building boasted a footprint of 160 by 30 feet, which rested on a foundation of Fond du Lac brownstone while its exterior walls were faced with brownstone from Port Wing, Wisconsin. Slate covered its roof and that of an adjacent 250-foot-long passenger shed whose platform was made of blue Bedford limestone quarried in Indiana. Inside, steam heat and two fireplaces, one at either end, warmed a one-hundred-foot-long waiting room. Marble-lined restrooms, one for men and one for women, were also located at opposite ends of the space, while the ticket office sat in the middle. The building’s western portion also contained a large baggage room. When the facility first opened on Christmas Eve 1897, the Duluth News Tribune described the facility as “superb” and “handsome.”

By the turn of the century Omaha station names—West Superior, Nettleton, East Superior—were causing confusion, as in 1889 the villages of Superior and West Superior had joined to become the City of Superior. Local post offices consolidated and plats merged, causing the renaming of many streets. So in July 1903, the Omaha renamed its West Superior Depot the Superior Depot, the Nettleton Avenue Station became Superior East End, and East Superior took on the name Itasca for the yard it served.

The C&NW ended passenger service from the Twin Ports on May 4, 1961. All of its depots have since been lost to the wrecking ball. The Superior East End building came down in 1961, and the Duluth passenger depot was razed in 1966 to make room for the expansion of Interstate 35.

The latest idea for the cover for Twin Ports Trains (like the book itself, it’s a work in progress…).