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Historic Murals: The Santa Fe Depot

The Santa Fe Depot mural is part 2 of The Historic Murals of San Angelo transportation series. It is a historically accurate painting of the Santa Fe train depot that the railroad constructed in San Angelo in 1908. This mural is located at South Chadbourne Street and Avenue C, across from the old Santa Fe/Orient Depot. Whereas the many stagecoach lines (e.g., Butterfield and Wells Fargo) were named after the individual owners and investors, trains were identified by their individual line routes.

The Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway Company (GC&SF) was chartered on May 28, 1873, to build a railroad from Galveston to the interior of Texas. The town of Ballinger was established when the GC&SF built westward out of Brownwood in 1886. In 1888, the company completed a 35-mile extension from Ballinger to San Angelo. This action essentially ended the overland stage business as the faster and more comfortable railroads easily won the government mail and passenger contracts. At the same time, it seemed the whole of Texas was also building passenger, mail, freight and livestock trains from town to town as fast as possible.

San Angelo became a shipping center with the coming of the Santa Fe railroad. Thousands of people came to San Angelo to greet the first train and Steam Engine No. 18 when it arrived from Ballinger on Sept. 30, 1888. The crowd celebrated for two days with the roar of artillery, a parade and a dance. There is more about steam-powered trains in The 503 Iron Horse mural.

On Dec. 12, 1895, the Santa Fe was reorganized as the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company and subsequently acquired a number of railroads that were leased to the GC&SF for operation in Texas. This new company name may be familiar to some viewers who remember the No. 1 hit song by the same name sung by Judy Garland in the 1946 film, “The Harvey Girls.”

When its original station burned to the ground in 1908, the Santa Fe railroad promptly constructed the new depot featured in this mural. It was an impressive building with its distinct New Mexico Santa Fe-style architecture, including the white stucco exterior and red tile roof. The artist, Crystal Goodman, discovered specific details of the craftsmanship in the building by enlarging an original 8-by-10-inch, black-and-white photo taken by San Angelo’s most remembered photographer, M.C. Ragsdale.

Goodman later found a 1908 color postcard of the depot that she used to make sure the design and color of the building trim work are historically accurate. At about the same time as that photo was taken in 1908, the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway of Texas (KCM&O) brought its first passenger trains into town. By the 1920s, San Angelo had grown from a frontier fort to a small rail station to the gateway for shipments of over 5,000 railcars of livestock each year. All the wool from southwest Texas also passed through the city. In 1928, Santa Fe bought out the KCM&O and operated it as a subsidiary of the Santa Fe through the 1940s. In 1941, the Santa Fe extended its line two miles to the new Goodfellow Air Force Base being constructed southeast of San Angelo.

Santa Fe moved its operations and administration to its newly acquired and much larger KCM&O building at 703 South Chadbourne Street and closed this old Spanish-style depot on August 1, 1929. This once-prominent transportation building would later be used as a meeting place for several local groups until Santa Fe decided to reduce the company tax and personal liability costs and leveled it on August 24, 1947. Santa Fe closed all of its San Angelo passenger and freight operations in 1985. A nonprofit organization, The Historic Orient/Santa Fe Depot, Inc., currently operates a railway museum in the KCM&O Chadbourne Street building.

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