A project to improve parking for Lawrence’s Amtrak station has unearthed a piece of the city’s railroad history.
While clearing gravel from the lot across from Van Go, just south of the station, contractors for the city recently uncovered a large brick-and-mortar area that appears to be the floor and surrounding plaza of the freight house that stood on that spot in the early and mid-20th century. The brick area is largely intact and is almost the size of a football field.
Freight houses were used for the loading and unloading of small amounts of freight shipped in by rail. The Lawrence freight house originally was an adjunct to the old Santa Fe depot, a majestic two-story brick building that served as one of Lawrence’s two main railroad stations from the late 1800s through the middle of the 20th century. It was part of a complex of railroad buildings in that area that included machine and repair shops and housing for railroad workers, known as La Yarda. Lawrence was an important waystation for the Santa Fe in the early 1900s.
The brick depot, built in 1883, was undermined in the great flood of 1951, when the Kaw overflowed and the depot had “water up to the window sashes,” according to a story in the Lawrence Daily Journal-World.
The Santa Fe tore down the depot in 1955, but left the freight house standing. The flood occurred at just about the same time that streamlined diesel locomotives were replacing clanking, smoke-belching steam engines, and it seemed appropriate to replace the old brick depot with a sleek modern station.
What is now the Amtrak depot opened to great fanfare in 1956, and recently was restored by the city and the citizens group Depot Redux as an example of midcentury architecture. The freight house was still standing when the new station was built, according to old photographs, but was later torn down because the new station had its own facilities for handling local freight.
The city has paused the parking lot project and is considering what to do about the old brick floor, which is about the same size as the adjacent Amtrak station.
“Because of the historical aspects of the discovery, plans are being reevaluated to determine if it is feasible to leave the brick in place as the new parking surface,” the city said in a release this week.
— Article updated to add more info at 3:01 p.m. Friday, April 16
Learn more about the Lawrence Preservation Alliance on its website.