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Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • Step back in time: Depot tours offer visitors a glimpse of the past

  •      Since the renovation of the Santa Fe Depot was completed in 2004, local tourism officials have wished that the public could enjoy the interior of the historic building. Along with the need for more things for tourists to do, surveys have shown that people who travel to Dodge City want both a t...
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  •      Since the renovation of the Santa Fe Depot was completed in 2004, local tourism officials have wished that the public could enjoy the interior of the historic building. Along with the need for more things for tourists to do, surveys have shown that people who travel to Dodge City want both a taste of the old west they've seen in movies and on tv as well as the experience of Dodge City's authentic past.
         The depot offers both. And thanks to a schedule of tours organized by the Depot Theater Guild last summer, tourists and locals alike have the opportunity to take a guided tour through the building.
    Telling the story
         Daniel Weller, a DCHS graduate now attending KU and majoring in linguistics, began giving tour of the depot last summer.
         "We hardly get any locals but today we had people from Alabama, New Mexico, Washington, California and Georgia," Weller said in an interview at the Globe following an afternoon of hosting tours.
         The depot tour begins in the lobby of the Fred Harvey Hotel, the center of the building and the room restored most closely to its original state.
         The tile floor, pressed tin ceiling, brass light fixtures and leaded glass windows are all original.
         The depot, one of the largest on the Santa Fe Railroad line between Chicago and Los Angeles, opened in 1898. The impressive structure housed a waiting room and baggage room for train travelers and freight, the Harvey Hotel, a Harvey lunchroom and "El Vaquero," the formal Harvey dining room. In the east end, division offices for Santa Fe and sleeping quarters for train staff provided support services for the trains.
         In the 1920s, Harvey built a one-story addition with laundry and kitchen facilities to service the new Pullman cars and dining cars.
         By the 1940s, the depot was only partially used and Harvey kept his hotels and dining rooms open through World War II to provide service for troop trains.
         After the war, the Interstate highway system helped reduce the number of people traveling by train as families began taking vacations by automobile.
         Santa Fe Railroad closed its last remaining offices in the depot in 1993 and essentially abandoned the building. The only room in use was the Amtrak waiting room.
         Prompted by the need for a new home, the Boot Hill Repertory Company spearheaded a fundraising effort to renovate the depot. The refurbished and transformed depot reopened in 2004 and the company changed its name to the Depot Theater Company.
         Responding to the need to have the building open to the public, the Depot Theater Guild organized the tours.
         "We started opening the building for tours in 2009, just during Dodge City Days," said Barbara Straight, president of the Depot Theater Guild. "We had actors playing Fred Harvey and a Harvey girl in costume hosting the tours," she said.
    Page 2 of 2 -      Then in 2011, the guild decided to expand the tours and began offering mid-day tours daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day with Thursday through Sunday tours in the spring and fall.
         The guild also created a gift shop and kiosk where visitors can purchase train memorabilia, books and art by local and area artists.
         Funding for this summer's tours has been provided by the Master Tourism Task Force.
         "Our visitors love the building because it's authentic," Straight said.
         "We had a couple from Rhode Island call. They were traveling through on Amtrak and they had read a book about Fred Harvey so they stopped in Dodge overnight, took the tour and even stayed for the show that evening," Straight said.
         "We mostly get people coming through on longer trips across the country," Weller said.
         "There's usually one person in the group who says 'I just always wanted to come to Dodge City and see what's here,'" Weller said.
         "We had a lady who grew up in Italy come through and she knew all about Dodge City," he said.
         He says the visitors are usually surprised to see the elegant side of the wild west.
         "They get the rowdy side at Boot Hill and they're surprised to see that Dodge City also had a fine hotel with a formal dining room — that, even for middle class workers, there were opportunities for formality and refinement."
         Weller notes that people enjoy seeing the restored hotel lobby but they are even more interested in seeing the wooden frames and original wiring in the old hotel rooms upstairs.
         The guild's interest in the historic depot extends beyond the tours.
         "We're working to restore one of the old hotel rooms upstairs so people can see what it might have been like when it was open," Straight said.
         She and her husband, M.J., took samples of the building's hardware to a store in Halstead that specializes in historic hardware. "She was able to match lots of what we needed," Straight said, "Even hinges and nails."
         A bed and washstand have already been acquired for the restoration.
         "The big thing we're looking for now is old light fixtures," Straight said.
         For more information about the depot tours or the hotel room restoration project, call the Depot Theater Company at (620) 225-1001.
    IF YOU GO
    Tours are available on a walk-in basis from 11 a.m to 3 p.m. seven days a week during the summer season.
    Tickets are $3 for adults and $1 for children.
    For more information, call the Depot Theater Company at (620) 225-1001.
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