The Duluth Depot in the heart of Duluth has an interesting history as the Historic Duluth Union Depot and is now home to the St. Louis County Heritage and Arts Center. As such, there are countless things to see and do at this extremely unique epicenter of learning and culture. If you like learning about different things, this is a stop you must make on your next visit to Duluth, Minnesota!
History of The Duluth Depot
In the late 1880s, with many different rail lines bringing supplies and people to and from the bustling and growing port city, Duluth was in dire need of a large train depot. So in 1890, the Northern Pacific and St. Paul & Duluth railroads began constructing the Duluth Union Depot. It took two years and $615,000 to build and was opened in 1892. Nationally prominent architects Peabody and Stearns of Boston designed the French Norman Château-like structure. The rounded turrets and steep roofline along with a yellow brick facade made the building one of a kind. It was quickly regarded as a beautiful, treasured example of architecture; the same feelings remain today. For the first few decades, in its heyday, it was servicing over 50 trains daily. It was a hustling and bustling place in the late 1890s and early 1900s, bringing European immigrants to the Iron Range and taking Duluthians south and east for business and recreation.
The Great Hall is much as it was back then, with the expansive open ceiling and polished floors. It was where the train tickets were sold and where people gathered to wait for the trains to arrive. As railway traffic declined in the mid 20th century, the Duluth Depot suffered a common fate and was closed in 1969.
The St. Louis County Heritage & Arts Center
The Depot was remodeled in the 1970s and became home to the St. Louis County Heritage and Arts Center. Amazingly, the Duluth Art Institute, Duluth Children’s Museum, Lake Superior Railroad Museum and ticket station for the North Shore Scenic Railroad, the Veteran’s Memorial Hall, The Duluth Playhouse, The Minnesota Ballet, and the St. Louis County Historical Society are all located at The Duluth Depot!
The Duluth Playhouse is especially fun for children of all ages, when several times a year a well-known play is presented to the public. The Duluth Children’s Museum is well attended anytime families arrive at the Duluth Depot. The Veteran’s Memorial Hall, which opened in August, 2009, is a historical journey of local veterans from the Civil War to the wars of today. Displayed are pictorials and there are donated artifacts from various families. There is also a Navy Reserve exhibit depicting navy life and their contribution to the war effort.
The Lake Superior Railroad Museum is in the lower level of the Duluth Depot. It houses many vintage trains and it is open to the public. Original tracks and bricks are visible as you make your way around the museum. There are a variety of train cars and unique diesel and steam engines. Minnesota’s first locomotive, the “William Crooks”, is also featured. You will see the smallest engine, the 27’ Minnetonka, and further along in the tour is the Mallet, which is 5 times as long. There are elegant dinner cars, cabooses, and passenger cars that you can walk through. A large indoor Lionel model train display is a crowd favorite. There is an old fashioned ice cream parlor and a train-friendly gift shop as you walk in the door. The lobby looks exactly like an old waiting station, complete with wooden pew-like benches.
North Shore Scenic Railroad
The North Shore Scenic Railroad tracks are located behind the depot. There are several train excursions each day during the late spring to early fall months. They depart from the Duluth Depot, and passengers can take an hour and a half round trip tour to the Lester River, or a half day tour up the North Shore of Lake Superior to Two Harbors, Minnesota. The ride is fully narrated, and the conductor will be glad to have his photo taken with families.
Some special events are the Pizza Train, the Elegant Dinner Train, and the Murder Mystery Train. These can be reserved as group charters, too.
The Historic Duluth Union Depot summer hours (from Memorial Day to Labor Day) have it open from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm daily. Winter hours are 10:00 am to 5:00 pm daily, except Sunday hours are 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm.
Duluthians are proud of this gallant building and its rich history, and there’s no doubt that you will find it interesting and pleasurable if you decide to stop in.