A visit to the Delmar Depot Museum is a step back in time to when the phones of the day hung on the wall and required an operator; when horsepower meant a team of horses; taking crops to market meant a long trip by wagon to the nearest river town; and the information superhighway was a telegraph using Morse Code.
Our story begins with the extremely severe winter of 1869 that left many of the new settlers in Bloomfield Township facing ruin. At that time Iowa was still a frontier being homesteaded by those seeking land to farm. In an effort to secure their future by finding an efficient and cost effective way to transport livestock and crops to market, four farmers pledged land and hired a surveyor to plot a town hoping to attract a railroad. They were successful and in 1871 the Midland Railroad, traveling east and west, and the St. Paul Railroad, traveling north and south, made their maiden runs a few hours apart on the same day, creating what became known as Delmar Junction. The area prospered and by 1905 six different railroads ran through the bustling town of Delmar.
Although trains no longer run through our picturesque little town, their story lives on. Abandoned in 1982 the depot sat vacant or ten years, at which time Delmar was allowed to purchase the crumbling Milwaukee Railroad depot. Recognized as historically significant, it was lovingly restored to its original beauty in the late 1990s by a few far-sighted residents who held fund raisers and wrote grants to buy the materials, doing almost all of the labor themselves.
Listed on the Historical Register, the depot that houses the museum was built in 1905. It is the first Victorian style depot built west of the Mississippi River, boasting a men’s and women’s waiting room, as well as an office and freight room. The last passenger train came through Delmar in 1971 and the Milwaukee Railroad ended its freight service in Delmar in 1981.
Our mission is to research, gather and preserve historical information and develop educational programs that are interesting and meaningful to people of all ages. Attractions include:
ALL ABOARD: While here, visit Elizabeth, the Depot’s 1968 Darby steel copula caboose. Always a favorite for the young and young at heart, feel free to climb up inside and see the home away from home for the trains' conductors and engineers when they were on long hauls.
GET A LITTLE DRUNK AND YOU'LL LAND IN JAIL: Large numbers of men found jobs in the new frontier town of Delmar laying track. The work was grueling and when they collected their pay the saloons were about the only source of relaxation. Business was brisk and it followed that often things got rowdy. In 1878 Delmar citizens said they had enough and demanded a jail be built. Known as the Railroad Calaboose, it is listed on the National Register. It is one of three remaining the U.S.
THE ORPHAN TRAIN: Delmar was a junction stop for a number of Orphan Trains bringing children west in the hope of finding homes. Started by the Children’s Aid Society of New York in 1854 trains with children and their caretakers traveled west stopping at towns in the hope families would take in a child. Their mission was to find homes to foster boys and girls who had been orphaned or abandoned, left alone to survive on the streets of New York. These were desperate measures for desperate times. Between 1854 and 1929 it is estimated that 8,000 children were placed in Iowa alone, with 200,000 being placed in the fledgling United States, Canada and the Indian Territories.
FOR THE CHILDREN: The Museum is child friendly with toys and books to occupy little ones and a children’s play area and playground in the park across from the museum with lots of room to play.
For those with genealogical interests, we have a number of census and plat books, atlases, and published and personal histories of the area, and railroad fans will find books and historical information on railroading, particularly that of the Milwaukee Railroad.
In addition Delmar Depot offers educational programs on the Orphan Train at the Depot or at your site, which includes the Museum's own DVD with orphans' personal stories and a historical overview of the programs successes and failures.
Whether you have an hour or an afternoon, please pay us a visit us for a glimpse of yesteryear.