James Neton’s History in Focus: The fate of the Craig train depot
In late 1913, as crews laying track moved west from Hayden there was a rising crescendo of excitement in Craig. “Railroad Day” would celebrate the arrival of the first locomotive to enter Craig on Friday, Nov. 21 at 10:45 a.m. It was the culmination of 31 years of patience and persistence by the citizens of Moffat County.
The Craig Empire of Nov.15 and 20 detailed plans for the two-day festival: a speech from Mayor Charles S. Merrill and railroad officials, a 31-gun salute (one gun for each year the area waited and worked for the rail line), a parade into the center of town, music from a cowboy band and horse races and other games.
A free feast was being organized by the ladies of Craig. “Juicy roast beef will have a leading place on the menu, while a thousand fried rabbits will also be relished.” Woe it was to those poor cottontails as men fanned out, shotguns in hand, to scour the surrounding countryside, but 2,000 people were expected to flood into Craig!
Later in the afternoon, Hayden and Craig would clash on the gridiron to decide local pride. A “moving picture” show and a bonfire at 7:30 p.m. would wrap up the first day. On Saturday, Nov. 22nd, events included more games, band concerts and a baseball game between Craig and Hayden.
Mother Nature brought snow and put a damper on the party, but the Craig men resoundingly crushed Hayden, 33-0, in a soggy and cold football game. In all fairness, Craig’s lopsided victory was due to Hayden missing three vital starters working guard duty in Oak Creek because of strikes in those mines.
Soon, Craig started a campaign to lobby the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad for a new depot. The shabby little boxcar at the end of Yampa Avenue was not a fitting entrance to our town.
An open letter to railroad president Charles Boettcher published in the Aug. 30, 1916 edition of the Craig Empire proudly listed the stunning development of Craig: a new water and sewer system, the nearly completed new high school, the upcoming installation of an electric light plant, the upcoming vote to build a new courthouse and 50 new homes built in the past year. “The present depot is a disgrace to the town and the Empire believes you realize this to be a fact,” stated the fiery editorial, which ended with, “Mr Boettcher, will you give us a depot?”
Railroad officials listened and responded. By March 1917, the Craig Empire reported on the sleek and modern two-story brick depot outfitted with beautiful woodwork, city water, steam heat and electric lighting. It was a point of pride and a befitting welcome to the vast empire of Moffat County.
For decades the depot was the stage of many a heartfelt moment. Loved ones arrived and departed; our local boys, now soldiers of Company A, left for war in 1940 to the music of the high school band. The local economy expanded as our coal, beef, wool and other products were shipped to the national market.
However, by 1968 passenger service ended, and the depot became a shipping office. By 1985 computers replaced a manned shipping office, and she was abandoned and slipped into lonely decades of disrepair.
Over the last decade there have been efforts to save the depot but now demolition is looming. Saving it is a hefty task with a hefty price, but last week a group of citizens met to create plans for funding to relocate and renovate the depot. If you are interested in helping contact the Chamber of Commerce at 970-824-5689.
One hundred years ago Craig struggled mightily to bring us the benefits of the iron horse, and the depot still echoes with the determination of our founding era. Hopefully, the depot can again bring Craig together and inspire us to meet the future rising before us by keeping the identity of our past alive.
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