a young Lebanese woman stepped off the train at the Denver & Rio Grande Depot in Salt Lake City, eager to rejoin her husband.
But she was sad as well as happy. In fact, Martha Sharouk had cried almost all the way from Darbelseem. Before she boarded the ship there, emigration officials had discovered that her baby had an eye infection and had made her leave him behind with his grandmother.
Now she stood in a snowstorm on a train platform, waiting for her husband to come.
Finally a stranger took her to Fourth South and pointed the way toward the Arabic community.
She walked through the snow, freezing and lost, until she happened upon an old friend from Lebanon. Martha’s husband, the friend told her, had gone to find work in Portland.
this old depot could tell many stories—of comings and goings, of immigrants stepping into new lives, men leaving for war and fewer men returning, people taking trips to visit family, businesspeople and politicians traveling.
The Rio Grande Depot opened in 1911 as a grand entry into a city that had almost doubled in population in the previous ten years. And what an entry it was! Large and beautiful, in the tradition of major train stations, the depot must have wowed
In those days the depot served the role that airports and trucking centers serve today, hauling people, industrial goods, minerals, agricultural products, and more.
with the huffing of locomotives pulling in and out, the echoing hubbub of the grand lobby, steps hurrying across the marble floor, the calls of baggage handlers, passengers at the ticket counter, people chatting in the coffee shop.
Built for $750,000, the depot was the main jewel of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad—and a worthy challenge to new Union Pacific Depot, which cost a mere $300,000. Railroads were big business in those days. And a fierce competition raged between the D&RGW’s George Gould and UP’s E. H. Harriman.
The main Rio Grande line ran to Denver through Carbon County and Grand Junction. Spur lines ran to several mining areas and to Ogden. But the Union Pacific controlled the rail traffic to the Pacific. So George Gould decided to build his own line to San Francisco.
He succeeded, but the line cost twice as much as he had planned on--$75 million—and sucked his family’s fortune dry. He lost his railroad empire shortly after.
it also represented a divided city. The same tracks that connected Salt Lake City with the nation split the city in two. New immigrants and ethnic groups such as Greeks, Italians, Japanese, and later Hispanics lived on the “other side of the tracks,” separated from middle-class and wealthy people.
By mid-century, people had begun to love their cars and planes, and railway passenger service declined. Still, the Rio Grande Zephyr ran passengers to Denver three times a week until the Thistle mudslide in 1983 brought the line to a sudden end. A few years later, Amtrak moved in and ran trains out of the depot until the tracks were moved west in 2000.
The state of Utah bought the building in 1977 for $1 as a home for State History. Careful remodels have preserved this remarkable building for future generations.
and experience its history and architectural space. The Rio Grande Depot is an historical artifact, associated with memories, legends, and even a ghost story or two.
The lobby of the Rio Grande Depot houses the Rio Gallery that displays art exhibits by Utah's finest artists and designers year round. The Rio Gallery is administered by Utah Arts & Museums. To learn more, visit www.riogallery.org
Location: 300 S. Rio Grande Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84101 map
The 2010 Utah State History Conference, The Need for Speed: Celebrating the Rio Grande Depot's 100 Years, held September 9-11, 2010, focused on this remarkable historic building.
One Building’s Life: A Plenary Address, by Brandon Johnson (pdf)The Rio Grande Depot Begins its Second 100 Years, Remarks by Don Hartley, State History historical preservation architect.