Visit the Historic Santa Fe Railroad Depot / Brownwood, Texas

Around the country, particularly in the American Southwest, there are some excellently restored Santa Fe Railroad stations. The Santa Fe station in Brownwood, Texas is a good example. In Brownwood, the old Santa Fe Depot was also a famed Harvey House. The depot and the Harvey House were in two separate buildings connected by a loggia.

old santa fe railroad depots

Old Santa Fe Depot, Brownwood, Texas

The Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad was instrumental in opening up the American southwest to tourism. Transporting the first tourists to the Grand Canyon is just one example. Their old railroad depots generally had a particular architectural style and of course the famous Santa Fe logo and signage.

Fred Harvey and the Santa Fe Railroad

The Fred Harvey name is forever connected with the Santa Fe Railroad for it’s many Harvey House hotels and Fred Harvey Dining Rooms.

In the early days of the passenger railroad service dining cars were essentially non-existent. So that passengers could have meals, the train would stop about every 80-100 miles. Passenger trains, trying to stay on a schedule, would allow the passenger perhaps one hour to eat a meal. If he or she was lucky the eatery might be located at the station. If not, they would have to search around town for a place to eat. Finding a decent restaurant, ordering your meal, eating it, paying for it and making it back aboard the train all had to be accomplished generally in one hour. Hopefully the train passenger did indeed find a good restaurant and hopefully made it back to the train before it left the station.

santa fe railway locomotive

Santa Fe Locomotive

The above scenario is what Fred Harvey went out to fix. Harvey had traveled regularly on trains and knew all too well the comfort problems of passengers. He also had a background in the restaurant business going back to the time he emigrated from Scotland.

Harvey eventually worked out an arrangement with the railroad to build dining halls and hotels, typically connected to or very nearby the depot. Fred Harvey gained a reputation for fresh meals at reasonable prices. He was aided greatly by the railroad in being able to ship in fresh vegetables. Fred Harvey Dining Rooms were staffed with Harvey Girls who went through a thorough character interview before being hired. There are many who have said that Fred Harvey and the Santa Fe Railroad civilized the southwest. Thanks to Harvey’s partnership with the Sante Fe Railroad, the Fred Harvey Company grew into a very profitable chain of restaurants, hotels and other businesses serving the growing  tourist trade.

The Santa Fe Railroad Station and Harvey House in Brownwood, Texas

The Santa Fe Railroad depot in Brownwood was built in 1909. The Harvey House Dining Room and Hotel was built adjacent to it in 1911. The brown bricks used in it’s construction were brought in from Coffeeville, Kansas. It’s also important to note that the Santa Fe Railroad buildings in Brownwood remain one of the few still intact in Texas. The railroad initiated passenger service to Brownwood in 1885 and utilized two different wooden structures until the brick depot was constructed. The current structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

During the heyday of railroad travel, Brownwood saw as many as fifteen trains per day pass through town. Service continued all the way to 1964 with as many as four trains per day.

The Santa Fe Railroad station and Harvey House now serves as home to the city’s Visitor’s Center and Brownwood Store. The Brownwood Visitor’s Center will give you all the information you need to explore Brownwood, Texas and learn about the history of the Santa Fe Railroad as it relates to the city. The Brownwood Store is a great place to search for Texas themed gifts and books.

Be certain to tour the old Harvey House which will give you an idea of how people traveled during the golden age of railroads.

Today’s old Santa Fe Railroad station and Harvey House in Brownwood, Texas is also used for events and weddings.

See these additional Trips Into History and Western Trips articles on the links below…

The Old Harvey House in Slaton, Texas / Now a B&B

The Santa Fe Railroad and Santa Fe, NM

Historic Dining Cars of the Santa Fe Railroad

Some excellent reference material on the subject of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad and Fred Harvey include…Appetite For America : Fred Harvey and the Business of Civilizing the Wild West – One Meal at a Time by author Stephen Fried. Also, Fred Harvey Houses of the Southwest by author Richard Melzer.

santa fe train depots in texas

Another view of the large train depot Harvey House building

Getting There

Brownwood, Texas is located about a two hour and fifty minute drive west/southwest of Dallas and about a one hour and twenty minute drive southeast of Abilene, Texas . It is the county seat of Brown County.

The Santa Fe Railroad Station in Brownwood, Texas, is located on the block bounded by Washington Avenue on the north, Adams Street on the east, the Santa Fe main line on the south, and Depot Street on the west.

(Article and photos copyright 2015 Trips Into History)

 

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