On August 24, 1867, the first train arrived in Wayzata on the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad track. The line started 25 miles away at the St. Paul Station. In the early years, only one train arrived in Wayzata each day.
The original Wayzata Depot was located west of Broadway Avenue near where Sunsets restaurant is located today. Since Wayzata was the end of the line, horses were used to turn the engine around so it could head east on the tracks for the return trip.
In 1878, James J. Hill took control of the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad after it went bankrupt. Known as the “Empire Builder,” Hill changed the name to the Great Northern Railway and began expanding the line to the west. Eventually, the line reached Seattle.
The railroad tracks in Wayzata were contested in the late 1880s. The sparks and cinders from the trains were bothersome to the business owners and residents of Wayzata. After Wayzata was incorporated as a village in 1883, city leaders demanded that the tracks be moved off the city’s main street 300 feet away from the shoreline of Wayzata Bay.
Hill disagreed with the mandate to move the tracks and in spite relocated the Wayzata Depot further east to make it inconvenient. Called “Holdridge,” the Depot was located near where Bushaway Road is today. Wayzata residents had to walk one mile, partially through swampy areas, to reach the Depot. However, Hill’s friends were able to board the train at a small platform in Ferndale at the west end of Wayzata.
The case to move the tracks eventually went to the Supreme Court in 1891. Hill won and the tracks remained where they still stand today. Due to his efforts, Hill has been praised as being responsible for preserving the shoreline. Had the tracks been moved, buildings would likely have been built along the shoreline and the view of the water from Lake Street would have been obstructed.
Once case was dismissed and the issue about the location of the tracks was resolved, Hill built the Wayzata Depot at its current location at 402 Lake Street East. It opened with much celebration on August 5, 1906. The Tudor Revival style building was designed by St. Paul architect Samuel L. Bartlett, who also designed other train stations across the country. With electric lights, steam heat and indoor bathrooms, it was considered the most grand depot on the line.
After the Wayzata Depot closed in 1971, it was donated to the City of Wayzata. In 2004, it was designated as a historic site by the city. It is also on the National Register of Historic Places and the Minnesota State Historical Sites Registry.
Today the Wayzata Depot serves as the Wayzata Historical Society Museum, which is open to the public from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Wednesdays, weekends, and holiday afternoons from April through December. The Wayzata Chamber of Commerce is also located in the historic building.
While sitting on the original waiting room wooden benches, visitors can look at the pictorial timeline of Wayzata mounted on the wall of the Depot. The original ticket window and the station master’s desk, which was sent by Hill to the Depot, are still intact. A telephone and telegraph that were used when the Depot was in operation still sit on the operator’s desk.
Also on display at the Wayzata Depot is other memorabilia about Lake Minnetonka and railroads, which includes two train models. During a visit to the Wayzata Depot, you can weigh yourself for a penny on a 1920s lollipop scale and purchase a cold bottle of soda from a 1955 Coke machine.
The lawn outside of the Wayzata Depot is the perfect spot for a picnic in the summer. The beautiful gardens are maintained by the Lake Minnetonka Garden Club. A garden railroad, with model trains running on weekend afternoons, was built in 2010. Many people choose to fish off of the Wayzata Depot dock, which also serves as the pick-up/drop-off site for the Steamboat Minnehaha.
You will still hear the whistle of an approaching train outside the Wayzata Depot. Up to 12 Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight trains travel through Wayzata each day carrying supplies to the western region of the United States.
The Wayzata Chamber of Commerce hosts summer concerts on the lawn outside the Depot on Wednesdays in July from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.wayzatachamber.com.
The Wayzata Historical Society was founded in 1982. Its archives, located in the lower level of the Wayzata Library, are open on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. For more information, visit www.wayzatahistoricalsociety.org.
Stephanie Larsen grew up in Minnetonka and now lives on Lake Minnetonka with her husband and two children. She loves sharing information about the history of the Lake Minnetonka area with others.