New Brighton’s 130-year-old train depot brings city history to life


photo courtesy of David Peterson • The depot museum as it stands today in Long Lake Regional Park. It’s open to visitors June to September on Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m.

photo courtesy of David Peterson • Bulwer Junction depot in its later days, standing behind Bell Lumber and Pole Yards, from an article by Gene Skiba that appeared in the New Brighton Bulletin in 1982, one of a series he wrote for the Bulletin over the years. You can read more of Skiba’s Bulletin articles in “Historical Snippets from the Past,” on sale at the New Brighton History Center.

David Peterson

contributing writer

 

New Brighton was born during the settlement of the West and expanded along with the railroad. Bulwer Junction depot was built in 1887, the year the village was surveyed and its streets were laid out. 

Now the oldest building in New Brighton, the depot is testimony to the important role that railroads and stockyards played in the development of the city and the rest of Mounds View Township. Railways were more than a means of transportation — they were also needed to bring livestock to markets. 

In 1889, the Twin City Packing Company started business in the New Brighton stockyards that covered much of the area from Long Lake east to Round Lake in Arden Hills. The Minneapolis Stockyards and Packing Company closely followed, along with the Exchange Hotel for cattlemen, known as the finest hotel north of Chicago.  

The 1890s saw the greatest economic depression up to that time in American history. The packing industry contracted and the New Brighton stockyards closed in 1901. However, New Brighton’s railway and stockyard infrastructure become important again in World War II. 

In 1941 and 1942, the Twin Cities Ordnance Plant was built near the limits of the former stockyards on the north side of Highway 96 at the border of New Brighton and Arden Hills. Eventually the site of the Arden Hills Armory, the grounds are still used as for training by the Minnesota National Guard. 

Bulwer Junction depot originally stood at the south village limits behind the Bell Lumber and Pole Yards near the intersection of County Road E and Old Highway 8. This Soo Line depot handled passenger trips to St. Paul and Minneapolis, as well as freight and express shipments. Bulwer Junction was also the home of the station master and his family and included a waiting room, office, kitchen, bedroom, and freight room. 

It was a passenger station until the early 1960s, and then used for storage until 1982 when it was donated to the New Brighton Area Historical Society. It was moved offsite until 1990, when it was moved to its current home in Long Lake Regional Park. With major renovations completed, the depot was opened to the public as the New Brighton History Center in 1995. The center’s activities include tours, the annual Rhubarb Fest and other special events, as well as board meetings of the New Brighton Area Historical Society. 

You can get a glimpse of what life was like in a historic train depot by visiting the New Brighton History Center at 700 Park Drive in Long Lake Regional Park. The depot museum is open from June to September on Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is free. 

The New Brighton Area Historical Society’s website, www.newbrightonhistory.com, has a virtual tour of the depot that you can navigate with a mouse, the keys on your computer or the touch screen on a smartphone or tablet. There are also several books for sale by the New Brighton Area Historical Society at the depot museum and Beisswenger’s Hardware and Power Equipment, where you can read more about the area’s history. 

 

– David Peterson is vice president of the New Brighton Area Historical Society.

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