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History of the International & Great Northern Railroad Station and the Strong Connections to the Texas State Capitol Building

Actually completed in 1888 by Gustav Wilke (1853-1915).As described in the Austin Daily Statesman on May 21, 1888, "Austin is to have the most complete and beautiful depot in the state... the building will be located on the site of the shanty that for years has been doing duty as a depot..." The article goes on about the dimensions of the ladies waiting room, the gentlemen's waiting room, lunch room, baggage and express rooms. But most valuable to me was a good description of the selected materials: "The depot will be built of Austin white press brick, with granite and terra cotta trimmings...the upper part of the windows will be glazed with stained glass. The roof will be slate..."(clip file obtained from the Austin History Center, April 9, 2001) Wow! What a bonus of information for this researcher who has been studying this building for almost three years. I had been guessing before coming across this item and fortunately it confirmed everything I had surmised from old photographs.

The I-GNRR company was in receivership throughout its' career; bought and sold over and over again: First to the Austin & Northwestern Railroad; the Union Pacific Railroad; the Texas & Pacific Railroad; the Missouri Pacific Railroad, etc. It's like a who's who list of railroads. In early 1923 acting out of modernization desperation the station was Art Deco-ized by the current owners. The bastion alcove roof was completely chopped off and all of the wrought iron and terra cotta ornamentation was scrapped. The "Austin white press brick" was filled with stucco and the gracious overhanging awning was replaced with a "modern" stucco loggia. In photographs it ended up looking like a giant diner!(See bottom of page). By 1955 the entire station was demolished.

In 1886-1888 two exceptional persons were at work in Austin, designing and constructing important structures for the city; Elijah E. Myers and Gustav Wilke. The old photos below will show the connection between these creative persons.

     
   Texas State Capitol building in 1896 - Dedication of the Fireman's Monument. Note that those are not automobiles huddled around the stela but are horse drawn buggies and carriages.  Believe or not, once in a while it snows in Austin; rarely hanging around for more than a day or two, but snow it does! This shot was taken in the 1920's.

.An Influential Architect But Not The Depot Builder

One multiple style architect (Romanesque to Neoclassical) present in Austin during the 1880's was the very famous Elijah E. Myers (1832-1909) who designed the Texas State Capital building we have today. Myers not only designed the Texas capital but also capitals for Colorado, Michigan, Utah, Idaho, the Brazilian Parliament Building for Rio de Janero and many other important residences and official buildings throughout the world.

But what is most telling is Myer's Stockbridge Town Hall in Michigan. It has many features apparent in the I-GNRR station: The bastion alcove with the sharp pitched roof; the Romanesque arch entry; the beaded stonework above the windows circling the bastion; the triangular facade with strong portico indications at the transept, and finally his sense of spatial proportion. Put the I-GNRR side by side with the Stockbridge Town Hall and discounting the regional masonry materials, you would think one was a extension of the other. But all of this may be a coincidence as I have yet to see the signed document/drawings for the train depot.

     
 Gustav Wilke  Looking North on Congress Avenue: Left, the IGN Depot; Center, the Capitol. Note the streetcar tracks.and the catenary wires directly above them for electric trolleys! Austin was among the first major U.S. cities to have electric rail. This fine etching represents the shay locomotive Wilke used to haul granite from Burnet to Austin for his construction of the state Capitol and for the depot.

It is well established that Gustav Wilke was the major contractor who built the Texas State Capitol building and the IGN depot, so it is certain he and Myers shared many ideas during this period. I have come to the conclusion that Wilke in addition to building it, created the plans and drawings for the I-GNRR passenger station. I also believe it was a masterpiece, every bit as note worthy as the state capitol building.

Reynard Wellman - Austin___Revised August 9, 2001-- Revised Jan. 21, 2008.

---Courtesy of the Austin History Center and the Texas State Archives