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Calmar Trail Depot

202 N. Maryville St., Calmar, IA 52132
Calmar Trail Depot

The current depot was built in 1915 by the Milwaukee Railroad.   The previous Depot Hotel was destroyed in a fire.  The depot is a 8 room single story building on a concrete foundation measuring 102 X 34.  It originally had a 27foot canopy on the east that was removed by the railroad in 1970 and reconstructed in 1998.   The purpose of the canopy was to provide shelter for passengers going between the horse-drawn carriages or automobiles and the depot waiting room..  

Calmar, at one time was a major railroad hub of the Milwaukee Road between Marquette and Mason City.  Passenger trains ran on this line up until sometime in the 1960's.  These passenger trains ran between Madison, Wisconsin and into South Dakota.  At Madison there were connections with other passenger trains going into Milwaukee and Chicago.  In addition to hauling passengers, these trains handled express shipments for all the stops along the line.  There was also a direct line running northwest to Austin.  Twice a day there would be meat trains from the Hormel plant in Austin heading for Chicago and points east.  One train ran early morning hours and the other ran in the afternoon.   There were also trains transporting meat from the Morrel Plant in Sioux Falls.  These trains received top priority over other trains running on the line because, even though the merchandise was in refrigerated cars, it was very important that they were not delayed.  It was necessary to get them to their destinations as quickly as possible.  Calmar also had livestock yards where cars hauling livestock could be spotted on the livestock track and the animals unloaded for feed and water.   This was required to be done on line every 24 hours and Calmar was one of the stations that had these facilities.  Eventually, livestock was not accepted for shipment.

In the 1920's there were 17 or 18 passenger trains that passed through Calmar depot station daily.  When Luther College had vacations or holidays, the depot was a madhouse.   Things were also busy at the old "Pierce Hotel" across the street from the Calmar depot.  Back then they cooked 1,000 hamburgers daily and at night they had to put cots in the hallways for people to sleep on when they ran out of rooms.   In the 20's the rail was Calmar's biggest employer with almost of the people employed by the railroad or by something that had to do with it. There were 225 people on the Calmar depot payroll. At that time a large number of those employees were in charge of train inspection, track maintenance and engine repair.  There was a 10 stall Roundhouse which was destroyed by a tornado in 1914.   Everything traveled by trains, the circus, soldiers going to the POW camp at Algona and many hobos.

Today the Prairie Farmer Bike trail runs right next to the Depot. The building provided restrooms for trail uses. It also houses farmers and flea markets and a variety of other smaller community events. A portable ice cream truck is parked at the Depot throughout the summer. Yummy!

The structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a local committee of volunteers is working on a project to house a railroad museum at this site. Stay tuned...



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