Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Depot

Local Landmark—1973

Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Depot an early image
Atchison, Topeka & Sante Fe Railroad Depot, 1970

While the pioneering railroad in the Littleton area was the Denver & Rio Grande, which arrived in 1871, the behemoth would become the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe. During the last decade of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, it was not unusual for thirty or more Santa Fe trains to pass through town each day. As reported by one wag in 1889, "...we counted twelve trains as they passed to and fro inside an hour. No one has any idea of the monster traffic on these two roads until they go and look for themselves." Most of these belonged to the AT&SF.

The Santa Fe first reached Littleton in 1887, running its tracks parallel to those of the D&RG. At first there was fierce competition between the home-grown Rio Grande and the Midwest giant Santa Fe. But once the Santa Fe won the rights for passage over Raton Pass into New Mexico, the Rio Grande resigned itself to its numerous Colorado mountainous routes and a spirit of cooperation followed. Having parallel tracks along much of the front range, the two railroads began operating a joint double-track system, which reduced congestion and delays for both lines. The Santa Fe held a similar agreement with the Colorado & Southern railroad (formerly the Denver, South Park & Pacific) whose tracks ran on the west side of the South Platte River from Denver to Leadville. In Littleton, this meant improved service and greater prosperity.

Art Depot Front 2015
The Depot Art Gallery, 2015. Photo by Amelia Martinez.

The Santa Fe Railroad built its depot in Littleton after about one year of service, in 1888. Originally the structure stood just north of the Denver & Rio Grande Depot. The vernacular, wooden frame building in the "railroad style" was similar to other depot designs popular in the late 19th century. The exterior walls are board and batten siding and a bay ticket window face the tracks. Most of the windows are original and are double-hung with divided lights (muntins). The gabled roof deep overhanging eaves are supported by brackets, which provided a sheltered area for waiting passengers. While the design of the building emphasizes function over design, it is none-the-less an elegant example of depot design.

The reliance on rail service began to decline soon after the turn of the century, due to the proliferation of trolleys, buses and automobiles, and the AT&SF closed its Littleton depot in 1967. The building was donated to the city and moved to Rio Grande (now Bega) Park to be displayed with other historic buildings, such as the original 1865 log schoolhouse. In 1973, the city designated the depot as a "Landmark" and in 1979 the Keeper of the National Register declared it eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

A community auction and matching funds from the Colorado Centennial-Bicentennial Committee raised $20,000 to restore the building, move it out of the redesigned park to its current location at 2069 Powers Avenue, and adapt it for use as the "Depot Art Center." Managed by the volunteer Littleton Fine Arts Guild and jointly financed with the city, the Depot Art Center's purpose "is to promote and advance fine art in the area, operate ... for the privilege of exhibiting members' work, ... sponsor shows by outside artists, and conduct workshops and art classes open to the public."

Art Depot caboose 2015
Depot caboose, 2015. Photo by Amelia Martinez.

In 1979, an 1898-vintage railroad caboose was donated to the city and placed on rails next to the depot. Originally belonging to the Colorado & Southern Railroad, it had passed through Littleton on many, many occasions. The caboose was restored and added to the depot's exhibition space.

Currently, the Depot Art Center continues to thrive as a gallery for local artists.

More photos »


Littleton Fine Arts Guild. "Depot Art Center" Brochure, 1994.

Littleton Independent. Littleton Independent Publishers, 1888- .

Littleton Museum. Photographic Archives.

____. Vertical File: "Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Depot".

Lobato, Rudolph. An Architectural and Historical Building Survey: Inventory and Evaluation, Littleton, Colorado. Littleton: Littleton Area Historical Museum, 1972.

McQuarie, Robert J. and C.W. Buchholtz. Littleton, Colorado: Settlement to Centennial. Littleton: Littleton Historical Museum and Friends of the Library and Museum, 1990.

Photographs courtesy of the Littleton Museum unless otherwise noted. To order copies, contact the museum at 303-795-3950.

Compiled by Pat Massengill
Edited by Kris Christensen, Colorado Digitization Project

Updated March 2021 by Phyllis Larison