Great Northern Depot, 90 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Great Northern Depot

Great Northern Depot
Address: 90 Hennepin Avenue
Neighborhood/s: North Loop, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Hennepin County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: 1913
Year razed: 1978
Primary Style: Beaux Arts
Historic Function: Rail-related, including depots
Architect or source of design: Charles S. Frost
Material of Exterior Wall Covering: Sandstone
Notes: The Great Northern Depot served as a major depot for the Great Northern Railroad and several other rail companies in downtown Minneapolis. Along with the Milwaukee Road Depot and the St. Paul Union Depot, it was once one of the three major railroad depots in the Twin Cities before being razed in 1978.

North Loop Minneapolis Hennepin



The Great Northern Railroad

Formerly the Minneapolis & St. Cloud Railroad Company, the Great Northern Railroad was founded by James J. Hill in 1889 after combining other railroad companies. This company served both freight and passenger service throughout Minnesota and other northern states as a transcontinental railroad. This depot provided the Twin Cities a direct connection with Chicago, Portland, and Seattle via the Empire Builder passenger service, and other cities such as Duluth and Winnipeg via other services. Due to the sheer size and wealth of the company, it became known as the empire of James J. Hill. In 1970, the Great Northern Railroad merged with three other railroad companies to create the Burlington Northern Railroad, one year before Amtrak took over all passenger rail operations in the country.

Minneapolis Union Station

Located near the eastern corner of Hennepin Avenue and 1st Street S, the Minneapolis Union Station, predecessor to the Great Northern Depot, provided passenger service for Minneapolis since the 1880s. Located near an area known as “Bridge Square” at the southern end of the Hennepin Avenue Bridge, the station straddled the space between the railroad tracks and 1st Street N, as the railroad tracks paralleled 1st Street N and crossed underneath Hennepin Ave, running northwest-southeast. By this time, the Great Northern Railroad serviced this station, with train approaching the station via the Stone Arch Bridge, also built by the Great Northern Railroad.

Great Northern Depot

By the 1910s, a new station was to replace the Minneapolis Union Depot, prompting the construction of the Great Northern Depot and the razing of the old station. Located on the north side of Hennepin Avenue across from the old station, the main waiting room was built directly above the railroad tracks, and featured many platforms under the street level, both the northwest and southeast of the main waiting room.

The depot was designed by Charles S. Frost, who designed the Milwaukee Road Depot in Minneapolis a decade earlier, and would later design the St. Paul Union Depot a decade later. While built to primarily serve the passenger services of the Great Northern Railroad and one its signature passenger trains, the Empire Builder, the passenger services and trains of other railroad companies also stopped at this Depot. This included the Twin Cities Zephyr of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, the Twin Cities 400 of the Chicago & North Western Railway, and the North Coast Limited of the Northern Pacific Railway.

At the time of construction was the height of the “City Beautiful” movement, which was a national movement in attempts to create moral and civic virtue in urban environments through the beautification of architecture and public spaces. The architectural style of the Great Northern Depot follows this movement by being built in the Beaux-Arts style. This is exemplified on the exterior through the Doric colonnade facing Hennepin Avenue, the arched entrances capping the sides of the colonnade, and the use of light colored sandstone to cover the brick and steel construction. Apart from the grandeur of the exterior, the interior boasted an 11,540 square foot, two-story waiting room surrounded by arched entryways and clerestory windows to allow extra light. Amenities at the depot included 18 telephone booths, 11 ticket windows, 6 elevators, 6 staircases, separate men’s and women’s lounge areas, a newsstand, a dining room and a barber shop. At peak service during WWII, up to 125 individual trains arrived per day, accommodating up to 20,000 passengers per day. The depot served as one of the many hubs of rail transportation in the Twin Cities, along with the Milwaukee Road Depot only a few blocks away and Union Depot in downtown St. Paul.


Starting in the 1950s, passenger rail service faced increased competition from other forms of transportation such as automobile and airplane travel. As time went on, fewer trains stopped at the depot, and many railroad companies ended passenger service all-together. By 1970, only a few trains stopped at the station each day, primarily ones owned and operated by the former Great Northern Railroad, which by this time was merged with other companies into the Burlington Northern Railroad. When all passenger train service in the United States was consolidated and operated by Amtrak in 1971, only one passenger train line, the Empire Builder, serviced the depot. To consolidate all passenger services in the Twin Cities, Amtrak in 1978 built the new Midway Station in western St. Paul, rendering the Great Northern Depot obsolete. With a lack of purpose, the depot was razed the same year.


Very few remnants remain currently of the Great Northern Depot, as the Federal Reserve Bank now occupies the land north of Hennepin Avenue, and no railroad tracks exist leading to the site. The Empire Builder, the legacy of the Great Northern railroad, still operates as an Amtrak line and services the Twin Cities via the St. Paul Union Depot.

This is the work or Jack Grundmeier

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Related Links


Hanson, Aaron. “Memories of Minneapolis’ railroading past: the Great Northern Depot” MinnPost, July 5, 2016. Web

Millet, Larry. Lost Twin Cities. Minnesota Historical Press, 1992. ISBN 978-0-87351-273-2

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