Sedalia Railroad Depots: Part 1 – The Katy Depot

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Sometimes when conducting research on one article I stumble upon the basis for another article. This time I’ve stumbled upon two different stories about adaptive reuse projects in Sedalia, Missouri. Interestingly enough, they are both train depots. However, they’ve been restored and re-used in different ways.

Adaptive reuse projects are an important topic on Rural Resurrection as many rural communities have those buildings within their community that are no longer viable for their originally intended use. Often these buildings are of sizeable stature in a community as they served important functions at one time. They are often older structures with great brickwork or architectural features. But they are often amongst the most run down buildings. So their visibility, when combined with their dilapidation, makes them stick out like sore thumbs.

So the reuse of such properties is an important aspect to the overall look and feel of your community. Whether it is a train depot, an old school building, vacated factory, or gas station (as in Cawker City, Kansas) the rehabilitation and reuse of these structures can have a profound impact on the look and feel of your community.

Katy Depot

Courtesy: Sedalia Visitor Center; Katy Depot Website 

The Katy Depot

This week we will take a look at Sedalia’s Katy Depot. Construction started on the Katy Depot on April 22, 1895. A little over a year later, the depot opened to traffic on May 10, 1896. The Depot sat along the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas (MK&T) Railroad which would eventually run from Hannibal, Missouri, to Denison, Texas, providing an important trade route to the southwest. Sedalia would become an important stop along the rail line, nicknamed the Katy Railroad. Numerous shops, stockyards, and a roundhouse grew up around the rail yard of this terminus with the Missouri Pacific Railroad.

However, this railroad community was hit hard by the railroad strikes of the 1920s and the Great Depression that happened not long after the strikes ended. Although the railroad industry continued to carry on, Sedalia was never the same. Then came the 1940s and 1950s where the rise of the affordable automobile spelled the end of the railroad’s reign. In May of 1958, Sedalia watched as the last passenger train passed through, 88 years after the first MK&T train went to Clinton, Missouri.

The Katy Depot sat mostly vacant for a number of years while still owned by the MK&T Railroad until it was abandoned by them in 1983. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources received title to the depot as part of an effort to conduct a rails-to-trails conversion of the rail line. The result was the creation of the 200-mile Katy Trail State Park.

In May 1996 the Missouri Department of Natural Resources accepted a proposal submitted by the Sedalia Area Chamber of Commerce / Convention & Visitors Bureau to be the managing tenant of the Katy Depot.

Given New Life

Though the structure sat mostly vacant for 40 years, it was still structurally sound. The timeless brick and limestone façade had withstood the decades of disinvestment. But elsewhere the building needed significant help.

A federal transportation grant was awarded in the late 1990s that paid for rehabilitation of the exterior. The grant paid for the replacement of the roof, gutters, windows and the cleaning of the brick and limestone.

Renovation of Katy Depot

Courtesy: Sedalia Visitor Center; Katy Depot Website 

Additional grant funding paid for the renovation of the interior from 1999 to 2001. The entire building was gutted with new electrical and plumbing re-routed throughout the facility. Walls for a new layout, floors, and new HVAC system were all installed. An elevator and sprinkler system improved the accessibility and safety of the building as well.

The Heritage Foundation was awarded the third grant in 2000 for parking lot improvements, security system and other exterior site improvements.

The Katy Depot’s New Role

With the renovation of the building completed, the Katy Depot was now in line for a new role in service to Sedalia. Half of the 2nd floor was dedicated to the Chamber of Commerce, with the other half going to the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The main floor that once served as the passenger depot had now become event space, a welcome center/gift store, and an exhibit gallery complete with regularly rotating exhibits. The Sedalia Heritage Foundation manages the main floor and serves as the curator of the museum.

The depot also now serves as a trailhead along the Katy Trail, part of the Katy Trail State Park. The “park” follows the former corridor of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (MKT or Katy). From one end to the other it is 239-miles long, stretching from Clinton to Machens. A total of 26 trailheads and four fully restored railroad depots along the route as well. The Katy Depot offers parking for trail goers, restrooms, overnight storage for bikes, and a quick bite for those stopping by for some additional energy before proceeding further down the trail.

Katy Trail State Park

Katy Trail State Park, by Kbh3rd; Creative Commons

Lessons Learned

With any major project like the Katy Depot’s restoration, it is important to keep in mind the adage “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Projects like this can take several years, if not decades. The Katy Depot sat vacant for four decades. Although there were likely a number a people in Sedalia that wanted something done with the property, it’s hard to convince a defunct railroad to make repairs. Also, the railroad abandoned the property in 1983 and it wasn’t until a decision on who would manage the property in 1996 did anything start moving. Even then, the rehabilitation of the depot took several years to complete.

Funding is almost always going to be an issue. Federal transportation grants helped fund the majority of the repairs and improvements. But most grants do not fund 100% of a project. Beyond the local match, it is important to just count on cost overruns. It is almost inevitable that the project will come in above the original budgeted number. Especially in the current construction climate with the prices of building materials skyrocketing.

Also, it is important to obtain the construction documentation from the process to update the facility. Although the Sedalia Area Chamber of Commerce / Convention & Visitors Bureau was deemed the managing tenant of the depot, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources still owned the facility. Hence, between the federal funding requirements and the state-level applicant, a copy of the construction plans never made it down to the local level. This makes local maintenance and improvements tougher.

Special thanks to Deborah Biermann, Executive Director, Sedalia Heritage Foundation / Katy Depot.

But Wait, There’s More!

Interestingly enough, the Katy Depot is not the only railroad depot in this town of 21,000 to get a facelift. Stay tuned for the second part of this story and Sedalia’s other railroad depot to be posted next Monday!

1 thought on “Sedalia Railroad Depots: Part 1 – The Katy Depot

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