The decision to build the new Katy Depot not only led Sedalia officials and townspeople to envision yet another chapter in the city’s enduring relationship with the railroad, it also provided the railroad with the opportunity to advance its agenda in setting the pace for a new generation of depot building. In a broader sense, the move signified the importance of Sedalia in the history and development of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad as well as the railroad’s importance to the history and development of Sedalia.
As a rule, the company’s engineering department used standardized designs for small and intermediate stations. But the heavy railroad traffic as well as the need to house the offices for several Katy officials in the Sedalia Division spurred the company to hire the professional services of an architect, a practice reserved for important parts along the line where larger facilities were needed. That the situation in Sedalia met this requirement was fortunate, in many respects. Not only would Sedalia become the site of what many called the “finest (depot) on the MK&T line,” but the lengthy construction of the depot would provide employment for many Sedalians still suffering from the effects of the Panic of 1893.
Plans for the new depot were announced in a front page article written in The Sedalia Democrat on Dec. 24, 1894, ten days after Katy officials approved the project at a St. Louis meeting. Three days later, ground clearing began.
George Goodlander of Fort Scott, Kansas had been contracted to construct the depot. When he began work the following year, he had also just begun he construction of a large Katy depot and office building in Parsons, Kansas, where the Sedalia and Neosho Divisions met.
Sedalia’s depot was designed by Bradford L. Gilbert, chief architect for the New York, Lake Erie and Western Railroad. In that position and as an independent contractor, he designed 27 other railroad stations throughout the east and midwest. He was also in charge of designing the new depot and office building in Parsons, Kansas.
The design of the Sedalia Depot incorporated many features common to railway stations used by the Katy and other companies in this time period. Sedalia’s MK&T Depot was completed at a time when the second generation of depot building was just beginning. There were engineering design problems involved in depot construction that were unique to the nature of railroads. Locomotives were huge, dangerous, mobile pieces of machinery. Steam engines required coal and wood and produced soot and dispensed poisonous, dirty and greasy smoke fumes. Even Diesel engines smelled and were dirty. Flying sparks frequently set fires to depots, so railroad lines were replacing wood frame structures with more substantial stone and brick buildings. Central heating, located in the basement, replaced fiery stoves. Broad overhanging eaves surrounded the new stations, projecting windows allowed a view of incoming trains, and an exterior combination of rough stone below and stucco or terra cotta above, became commonplace in this new wave of depot building. All of these characteristics are present in the Sedalia Depot.
A formal dining room, all-night lunch room and a full second floor for local railroad officials separate the Sedalia Depot from those in cities of similar size. It had many or most of the features found in much larger depots, but on a smaller basis.
The day following the depot’s opening, a favorable account of the dining room was published by the Sedalia Democrat. The article stated the dining room’s menu was one of the choicest ever served in Sedalia. The menu included soup, boiled lake trout, meats, vegetables, roast turkey with dressing, fruits, nuts, strawberries and ice cream with cake and coffee.
The same edition of the newspaper also noted an important change in the relationship between Sedalia’s two largest railroad companies. It stated that the Katy separated from the Missouri Pacific at six o’clock the preceding morning. This then ended the shared facilities and the uneasy relationships between the two entities, that had competed, sometimes ruthlessly, since the MK&T debuted in Sedalia 26 years before.The presence of Sedalia’s Katy Depot ushered in a new age in the ongoing struggle for dominance of the rails, which was to last for nearly five decades.