Make surprising discoveries inside this county museum packed with exhibits on the history of Franklin County and the story of railroads in small towns.
In 1868, the Leavenworth, Lawrence and Galveston (LL&G) became the first railroad to reach Ottawa, Kansas. Shortly thereafter, the line was sold to the Southern Kansas, who hired architect George Washburn to design the depot that still stands today. The building's stone was quarried in Cowley County, which is in southeast Kansas.
After its construction in 1888, the Santa Fe bought the Southern Kansas line and the depot became a Santa Fe Division Headquarters. The depot included a 13-stall roundhouse where engines were repaired, a freight depot, and a Railway Express Agency (an express shipping service). Unfortunately, before the levy system was installed, the depot was at the mercy of the Marais des Cygnes River, which flooded frequently. As the need for passenger service declined, the 1888 depot fell out of use, and passenger service moved to a smaller building north of town before being discontinued entirely.
In 1962, the depot was donated to the Franklin County Historical Society, which reopened the depot's doors in 1963 as the Old Depot Museum. In 1996, the Franklin County Historical Society received an ISTEA grant, and the building underwent major rehabilitation before reopening in 1999. The two-story museum includes exhibits on Native American tribes, the Pottawatomie Massacre, the exaggerated photography of William "Dad" Martin, local industry, and historic examples of daily life in Franklin County (a turn-of-the-century general store, farm kitchen, Victorian parlor, soda fountain). One entire room is dedicated to an HO-scale model railroad layout designed to replicate the sites of 1950s Franklin County. Our one-room school exhibit also serves as the setting for our One-Room School Program, where students are invited to dress in pinafores and suspenders and experience a day in school--complete with academic, behavioral, and recreational expectations--just as a child would have in 1915.
Just outside the depot is a 1940s caboose, which was donated to the Franklin County Historical Society in 2012. Old Depot Museum staff members can unlock the caboose for visitors when weather permits.
The large first-floor gallery features temporary exhibits. 2017 exhibits include:
HISTORICALLY SIGNIFICANT: HOW HISTORY SHAPES US, OUR COMMUNITIES, AND OUR FUTURE
History shapes who we are, how we live, and the choices we make. Discover your personal history and the effort to preserve and present community history through this exhibit.
CROSSINGS: GETTING OVER, AROUND, AND THROUGH WATER IN FRANKLIN COUNTY (made possible through a Water/Ways grant from the Kansas Humanities Council)
Explore Franklin County's relationship with the Marais des Cygnes River through a history of floods, bridges, irrigation, drinking water, and levees.
HOME FRONT ON THE HEARTLAND, REVISITED (made possible through a Heritage Grant from the Kansas Humanities Council)
Discover Ottawa photographer J.B. Muecke's iconic WWII-era photos of the war effort in the Midwest.
The depot also hosts numerous events throughout the year. Most events are free and open to the public.The museum is a member of Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area.