The Minnehaha station, famous for its intricate “gingerbread” canopy, was one of three stops on the first railroad line built out of Minneapolis.
Minnehaha Depot was built in 1875 to replace a smaller station on the first railroad line on the west bank of the Mississippi River, connecting Minneapolis with Chicago. It was designed by the Minnesota Central Railway Company engineers in a style called Carpenter-Gothic, and features elaborate “gingerbread” ornamentation made possible by the recently invented jigsaw and precut, or dimension, lumber. The delicate decoration includes cockscomb detailing along the roofline, ornamental eave triangles, fans, and spires. The look of the depot led railroad men at the time to call it the "Princess."
The building itself is only 22 feet by 20 feet, while the platform measures 75 feet from end to end. The exterior is painted in the Milwaukee Road colors of orange siding with boxcar red trim and wainscoting.
In the depot’s early years, Minneapolis residents flocked to Minnehaha Park by train to enjoy summer weekends. The station supported passenger service until 1920 and continued to operate as a freight station until 1963.
Today, the building is home to many of the original artifacts from its days as a depot, as well as other displays of early railroad and streetcar travel of the area. It’s open to visitors on Sunday afternoons from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
The Minnehaha station, along with those at South Minneapolis Junction and Fort Snelling, was one of three stops on the first railroad line built out of Minneapolis. Completed to Mendota in 1865, the tracks were extended the following year to St. Paul, effectively creating the first Minneapolis to Chicago route.
The line was built by the Minnesota Central Railway Company, a forerunner of the Milwaukee Road. The depot was placed on the heavily traveled line that first connected Minneapolis with Chicago and the Eastern US in 1866, and served as a main line of the Milwaukee Road until a direct route between Minneapolis and St. Paul was constructed in 1880.
The city of Minneapolis grew up around the Minnehaha Depot, which was originally built in a country-like setting. The station was situated to provide passenger facilities to the park for weekenders who wanted to picnic, swim, fish, and visit the Longfellow Zoo. Its size belies the volume of traffic it handled in the early 20th century.
Soldiers from the Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII, and the Korean War were inducted into the Army at Fort Snelling and left for service over these tracks, either from the Minnehaha Depot or from staging areas on Pike Island.
The depot was closed in 1963 and presented by the Milwaukee Road to the Minnesota Historical Society. The Minnesota Transportation Museum restored the building to its 1890s appearance and maintains and interprets it as a historic site.