Depot Marks Its First Century
Although a passenger train hasn’t stopped at this iconic landmark for more than 40 years, the Bartlesville Union Depot stands as a picturesque reminder of the colorful past of passenger rail service provided to the community. Completed in December 1909, the depot is currently home to the Visitor Information Center as well as the Bartlesville Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Bartlesville Development Corporation.
During the early years of statehood, 16 passenger trains passed through Bartlesville every day, with mail delivered by rail 11 times daily. It was once served by two major railroads lines – the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (the “Santa Fe”) and the Missouri, Kansas and Texas (the “M-K-T” or “Katy”). The Santa Fe Railway built the structure, based on its trademark Southwest architectural style. Although Bartlesville’s chapter of passenger train service came to an end in 1971, short-run excursion trains operate from the depot once each year in late spring.
Arrival of the Rails
When rail service came to Bartlesville in 1899, the door opened for the new community to become a prosperous 20th century commercial and industrial center. Jake Bartles, an early-day pioneer who helped found Bartlesville, was among the strongest advocates for railroad development in the area. In fact by 1897 he had staked a right-of-way on the north side of the Caney River, with the intended route just a stone’s throw away from his general store.
However, when the time came to lay tracks, the Santa Fe Railway selected a route about a half mile west, consequently sidestepping the Bartles Store. To gain access to the railroad, Bartles moved his business activities three miles north and established a new town, which he named Dewey.
The first Bartlesville depot was a framed wooden structure a short distance south of the current site. A decade later, it was replaced by a sturdy red brick Santa Fe-style building at the intersection of Keeler Ave. and Second St. Here’s how the depot looked in the 1920s, looking east toward downtown Bartlesville: Depot Panorama in 1924.
Front Door to a Boomtown
While the railroad drove out one of the town’s pioneer merchants, hundreds of oilmen, entrepreneurs and business people flooded into the area, and by 1903 the M-K-T reached the community and also utilized the new depot. For this reason, the facility became known as the Bartlesville Union Station.
From Bartlesville the M-K-T built southward through Indian Territory. The Santa Fe line extended to Owasso and finished laying tracks to Tulsa in 1905. Businessmen, bankers and hundreds of oil gamblers far and wide were riding the train rails to the budding city in the early 1900s.
In the 1940s, the depot’s brick exterior was surfaced with stucco, which enhanced the structure’s classic “mission style” characteristic of many Santa Fe stations in the Southwest.
The Depot Today
With the fading of passenger service, the depot became surplus real estate. It was eventually sold to Phillips Petroleum Company (now ConocoPhillips and Phillips 66), which refurbished the landmark and provided it to Bartlesville Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The open porch on the north end of the building was enclosed in 2013 to create a spacious Bartlesville Visitors Center. A few steps away on a display track sits the historic Santa Fe No. 940 steam locomotive, which is coupled to a restored Santa Fe caboose.
Active freight rail service continues in Bartlesville. In 1990, the Santa Fe sold its trackage to WATCO, a shortline railroad that operates more than 20 rail lines throughout the United States. Freight trains continue to pass through Bartlesville at the rate of about one train per weekday, operated by WATCO’s South Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad (SKOL), headquartered in Cherryvale, KS.