Standing the Test of Time
It was by design —not accident— that Sedalia’s Katy Depot has withstood the ravages of time and stands today as a magnificent shrine to the architectural integrity, distinctive of a bygone era. Located three blocks east of downtown Sedalia at Third Street and Thompson Avenue, the elegant red brick and limestone structure, lends stature and grace to the surrounding landscape and invites the imagination to journey into the glorious past, when the rails were the dominant means of transportation and distribution throughout the nation.
The two and half storied building sets on a foundation of rock-faced limestone and is capped by a steeply-pitched multifaceted roof. It is a masterpiece of architectural detail and construction. Among the primary features of the structure are its principal, eight-sided facade, its arched and linteled openings framed in limestone, its slate-covered angled roofs and its encircling gallery.
The elongated, two-story rectangular block joined to the octagonal end of the building, encompasses the bulk of the structure. It housed the one bay, three- sided ticket office on the east side and an open passenger pavilion on the west. This portion of the structure is punctuated by handsome, flat-headed windows and the passenger pavilion is supported by squat wooden columns. At the south end of this structure, a single story rectangular space terminates in a three-sided bay. Its low angled roof shelters the gallery which encircles most of the building. The gallery is supported by simple wooden posts with curved brackets.
Slightly over 200 feet in length, the octagonal end of the edifice is nearly 50 feet wide. Among the many eye-catching details of the building’s exterior are, its artistic display of decorative, horizontal limestone bands, the arched window housed in a dormer above the center bay, and the four small fixed lights peeking from dormers at the east and west slopes of the main roof.
The interior of the Katy Depot, resplendent in old world charm, was designed to serve two specific purposes. It provided for both a spacious, comfortable area where passengers could relax, dine and accommodate their needs, as well as office space where employees could perform the tasks necessary to the efficient operation of the railroad.
A full basement, constructed of thick blocks of rough-cut limestone, is divided into five sections whose central area can be accessed from the main staircase on the first floor. Originally, this area housed the steam heating system. At that time, coal was deposited through plates located under the gallery on the depot’s west side. Later the steam system was replaced by gas and another staircase which descended from the kitchen was eliminated.
The women’s waiting room occupied the broad octagonal block of the building. An outstanding feature of this room is the fireplace with its massive oak chimney piece which is flanked by paired columns with layered capitals. Within the elegant ambiance of this room, one can easily imagine women gathering to visit, nurse their babies or do their needlework, while waiting for the sound of the whistle to announce the arrival of the train. Vestiges of the original paneled oak wainscoting, which could once be found throughout the first floor, remain adjoined on both sides of the mantelpiece.
Adjoining the women’ waiting room, on the southeast, was the ticket office which was stationed in the small, three-sided bay. This bay had windows which opened onto the exterior as well as inside the waiting room, so that tickets could be purchased from either location.
Toilet facilities and a hall opposite the ticket office separated the women’s area from the larger men’s waiting room This lavish room, where men could converse or exchange the news of the day, is approached through the central doors from both the east and the west sides. A 12 foot wall fitted between two columns, bounds the southern end of this room, allowing access to the central hallway and staircase beyond.
The room which originally functioned as an all-night lunch room occupies the space beyond the central hallway and staircase. This room echoes the elongated octagonal shape of the women’s waiting room and once contained a skylight. It also boasts a smaller brick fireplace which is now sealed. The space was later used as the MK&T freight office.
A kitchen and serving room once occupied the two rooms south of the all-night lunch room. Only the sky light over the serving room remains today as a reminder of the sumptuous meals prepared and served to thousands of eagerly awaiting passengers. The south and east walls of the serving room were removed in 1956 to increase the size of the converted freight room.
The large built-in buffet, centered on the south wall bears evidence of the formal dining hall that was later converted to a freight room. When the depot opened in 1896, this elegantly appointed dining hall was considered Sedalia’s finest eating establishment. Lit by four windows of the opposing shed dormers, this hall with its high ceilings provided a light, airy vista where the anxious passengers could partake of their culinary offerings with ease and comfort.
A baggage room with a floor constructed of seven-inch wide wood planks occupied the southern, tri-cornered end of the depot. Accenting the room’s rustic simplicity are its exposed red brick walls highlighted by the massive stilted arches over the windows.
The depot’s second floor covers only the octagonal and central blocks of the building. Although this floor originally housed offices for the telegraph superintendent, resident engineer, road master, train master, dispatcher, superintendent and the superintendent’s clerks, its layout and appearance has changed very little over the years. The original millwork throughout the second floor, although of a simpler variety than that of the first floor, has been retained. Its moulded surround with bull’s-eye medallions are outstanding examples of the fine craftsmanship that went into the construction of the depot.
A long, steep staircase leads from the central hallway to the attic. The attic is lighted, but unfinished with exposed beams and rough wood floors.
With the exception of the baggage room with its rough wood floors, the original oak strip flooring is retained throughout the depot. The strips on the first floor are 2 1/4 inches wide and are 3 1/4 inches wide on the second floor. All ceilings on the first floor are covered with stamped steel in a floral and geometric pattern.
Oak wainscoting characterized the first floor of the depot and a chair rail which trimmed the wainscoting remains throughout that floor. Also remaining throughout much of that floor is a broad moulding which embellishes the walls at window-top level.
A fire on April 24, 1898, resulted in the first alterations. However, according to existing plans, the building was returned to its original condition. Damage estimates ranged from $5,500 to $7,000, and included primarily the replacement of lost furniture and office records.
The MK&T installed shelving throughout the basement and second floors in 1943 and by 1956, had significantly changed the first floor. Alterations made in 1956 included the installation of florescent lighting, lowered acoustic ceilings, the complete remodeling of the kitchen and serving areas, the replacement of a door and adjoining windows in the dining room with large freight doors, and the addition of a concrete platform approach along the western rear side of the depot.
In 1962, contractors for the Minuteman Missile complex in west central Missouri leased portions of the building for use as their headquarters. During their tenancy partitions were added throughout the northern half of the basement and the octagonal block of the first floor. The exposed limestone walls of the basement were covered with pressed board fastened to wood frames.
Additional alterations included the addition of a staircase leading from the basement to the men’s waiting room and the moving of the toilet facilities away from the west wall between the two waiting rooms to the center of that area, creating a hallway on both sides.
The building, oriented slightly to the northeast, sits on a triangular plot of Third Street on the north, Thompson Avenue on the west, and the MK&T tracks on the east. Tracks were located on both the east and west sides of the building, but the main line of the Katy has always been the one to the east. Brick loading platforms surround the depot on the north and east and beneath the gallery. The bricks bear the “Coffeyville” inscription, for Coffeyville, Kansas, the location of the factory which provided brick for the MK&T Railroad Company.
Also located on the property, to the south of the depot is the associated American Express building. Built by the MK&T in 1926 for the American Express Company, it is a red brick, rectangular structure measuring 50 feet by 24 feet.