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Unit 5: Aberdeen Railroad Depots: Centers for Activity

Milwaukee DepotRailroads and their depots were a very important part of Aberdeen. In the days before semi-trucks and cars, almost everything including people was transported from place to place by the railroad. Aberdeen had four different railroad companies that ran trains into town every day. Each of these companies built a depot, or headquarters, where the train stopped. Trains could then drop off or pick up freight, mail, livestock, and people. These four depots still remain today.

circus elephantsThe Milwaukee Depot (now Burlington Northern) on North Main Street was built in 1911. It was the fourth and largest depot built by this company in Aberdeen. The first two were torn down and replaced by larger ones, and the third one burned down. During World War II, a canteen was opened at this depot for the soldiers traveling through Aberdeen to the east or west coast. The canteen was run by the Red Cross and the USO and served food, including pheasant sandwiches, to the soldiers. They also had birthday cakes in case it was someone’s birthday and a small gift for each soldier at Christmas time. The canteen was opened in August of 1943 and closed in March of 1946. Soldiers always remembered Aberdeen because of the pheasant sandwiches.

Chicago Northwestern DepotThe Chicago Northwestern Depot is located on Dakota Street and was built in 1910 to replace its first depot built in 1883. When the circus came to town in those days, it arrived by train at this depot. The animals were unloaded and paraded down Main Street. Two United States presidents that visited Aberdeen arrived at this depot. President Taft came in 1911 and President Franklin Roosevelt came in 1936.

Great Northern DepotThe Great Northern Depot was built in 1907 on Court Street. One of Aberdeen’s first hotels, the Park Place, was removed so this depot could be constructed on the same site.

The Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad built its depot on South Main Street in 1907.

The railroad had many different types of cars to handle the different types of cargo. Passenger cars had seats, tables, and even beds. Boxcars were just what their name says “boxes” on wheels. They carried all kinds of freight including grain, food, and furniture. Cattle cars held livestock and had slatted sides to allow air to circulate to the animals so they could breathe. Flat cars had no walls or roof so they could haul very large items like machinery and lumber. Tanker cars hauled water, oil, and milk.Minneapolis and St Paul Depot There even was a mail car which was a post office on wheels where men sorted mail for delivery along the route. They would also pick up mail at each stop the train made. The very last car on the train was the caboose. It was an office for the trainmen and a place for them to eat and sleep. Trains with all these types of cars came to each of Aberdeen’s depots.

Many people worked at these depots to take care of the trains, the passengers, the freight. The yards around the depot are where the trains were fixed and fueled. You will learn about some of these jobs later in this lesson.

To help you understand how active the railroads were in Aberdeen, consider these numbers. At the peak of the Milwaukee’s activity inRail yard Aberdeen, 26 passenger trains arrived EACH DAY. During WW II, overONE HALF MILLION soldiers were served at the Canteen. During holiday seasons over 700 BAGS of mail were processed by over 30 postal employees. And in a typical year over 10,000 cars of livestock came to Aberdeen. Railroads were indeed important to Aberdeen history.

Each of these depots remains standing today but are no longer used by the railroads. One serves as an office for a group of lawyers. Try to find the four depots as you drive through Aberdeen and imagine them full trains and the people working and traveling there.