Background on depot purchase and plans
The Whitman County Historical Society (WCHS) announced their recent purchase of the historic Northern Pacific Railroad Depot. This iconic downtown building is a symbol of Pullman’s rich heritage and the Society decided that its purchase would insure the preservation of the building as a historical site, leading to an eventual railroad and Pullman history facility.
The Northern Pacific Railroad came to Pullman in 1887, two years after the arrival of the Union Pacific line. Both railroads served the community with small wooden stations – the Union Pacific on the south side of the Palouse River and the NP on the north – just a block apart. In 1901 the NP depot was relocated a bit closer to the tracks when commuters became tired of walking through the mud to meet the trains. A spot east of Grand Avenue and along the river became its permanent site. A 32 x 160 ft. frame building was replaced in 1917 by the brick structure that exists today. Hundreds of WSU students arrived on campus via “Cougar Special” trains from Seattle and Tacoma. The depot continued to be used until the 1960s when passenger service was discontinued. In 1970 Northern Pacific sold the building to Burlington Northern who leased space to the Department of Agriculture for Soil Conservation District offices.
The building was purchased in 1988 by the late Dan Antoni, who named it the Pufferbelly Depot. Antoni turned a portion into his real estate office and rented space to the Spokesman-Review and vehicle licensing department. He added three passenger cars, a locomotive, and Great Northern caboose which he placed on rails next to the building. His daughter Meghan inherited the depot and was seeking a way to preserve it. Contact was made with the Society about the possible purchase and discussions followed. The acquisition became possible when loans were secured by the historical society and an anonymous local enthusiast.
The Society appointed local residents Linda Hackbarth and Kathy Meyer to co-chair an exploratory steering committee to 1) raise funds to repay the loans and finance future development of the museum, 2) plan for the future use of the facility and its administration, and 3) move forward on needed renovations and improvements. “We see great potential in developing a museum in downtown Pullman and want to encourage any interested folks to help plan for its future,” cited Hackbarth. “We are calling for all railroad buffs, historic preservation enthusiasts, potential museum planners, and general Pullman lovers to join us,” she added.
The steering committee engaged the services of WSU’s Rural Community Design Initiative. Students and faculty from the School of Architecture have been meeting with depot members to formulate plans for the building, the train cars, and surrounding grounds.
The steering committee adopted a mission statement and motto and elected an executive committee to take charge of further decision-making and continue to develop plans with assistance from the volunteer sub-committees. They include:
Jon Anderson John-Mark Mahnkey Linda Hackbarth
David Hoyt Debbie Sherman Kathy Meyer
Annette Pettenger Kathleen Ryan
For further information on how to support this effort or become a member of a sub-committee you are encouraged to contact the following: