The Sedalia Katy Depot
In the early days of the railroad there were no depots.
Trains departed from a street or other location. Sometimes hotels or inns were the arrival and departure points for travelers. Tickets were sold at the departure point or at another business place in the town.
On occasion, the conductor or captain collected the money for a ticket from passengers. Small ticket offices were the first “stations”. There was no thought for the comfort or shelter of the traveler. Some of the first railroad stations were houses adapted for use. Often old railroad cars were converted. These first stations were primitive and makeshift. By the 1840s stations were being built in the big cities to accommodate the travelers, but these were still not built for looks or comfort. Depots that were designed for beauty and convenience of the traveler were developed in the 1890s.
Depots in the country stations were the focal point of the community. Most likely, it was the first or last place that the visitor experienced. Many depots were used for both passengers and freight. Depending on how important the town was to the railroad, they may have one depot for the passengers and one for the freight. If the depot was very important it could be very big with many facilities for the passengers such as restaurants, separate waiting areas for men and women, and carriage (later taxi) service into the town.
Stations were the social center of the town and a source of news and gossip. No one arriving or departing went unnoticed. In the days of horse and buggy, the station was the way people communicated with the outside world. The train brought the news, mail, and merchandise. Telegrams were dispatched and received at the depot, watches were set by the station clock.
The employees of the railroad were an important part of the picture. At the smaller depots the station master took care of everything. He would sell the tickets, handle the baggage, keep the stove going, send the telegrams, and do dozens of jobs. The bigger the station, the more employees to do these various jobs. At most stations a restaurant or lunch room was provided. Some became famous for their food and the excellent service they gave to their customers.