By Luke Anderson
November 30, 2016
Downtown Cheyenne extends outward from Capitol Avenue, which is anchored on the north and south ends by two towers. The tower on the north end of Capitol Avenue is, of course, the large gold dome of Wyoming's State Capitol building. On the south end of Capitol Avenue is the Union Pacific Railroad Depot. The two towers give downtown Cheyenne a unique skyline among Wyoming cities. The depot was constructed in 1887, just one year after the capitol building. While cities across Wyoming of various sizes also boast striking railroad depots, Cheyenne's depot is truly magnificent, as the Union Pacific wanted to give the major stop along the line a statement building.
In order to make the Cheyenne depot stand out, the Union Pacific turned to prominent architect Henry Van Brunt who was nationally-known for his institutional buildings designed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style that was popular during the late 19th Century. Romanesque architecture was influenced by Roman architecture and heavily emphasizes the semicircular arch. Henry Hobson Richardson, who lived and worked in the mid-to-late 1800s, created his own version of Romanesque architecture that was informed by medieval architecture, which gave Richardson's Romanesque style a unique flavor that included strong ashlar stone walls and prominent square towers (Wentworthstudio). The style became popular with churches and other institutions such as colleges and universities.
Henry Van Brunt created an archetypal Richardsonian Romanesque building in Cheyenne's Union Pacific Depot building. The large windows on the main level are capped with semicircular arches and the roof is hipped with two prominent projecting gables. The walls are constructed of rock-faced ashlar laid in broken courses with minimal detailing which is also characteristic of Richardsonian design. Lastly, the defining element of the depot is its tall square clock tower, with four semicircular arches just below the tower roof.
The depot has become a cornerstone of Cheyenne's identity. It no longer services train passengers, but, like many depots in western towns that no longer have passenger train traffic, the depot has been repurposed for other uses. The depot features a railroad museum, restaurant, and its lobby plays host to a number of community events. The depot plaza just north of the building is a popular public gathering space for farmers' markets and concerts. Reused historic buildings such as Cheyenne's depot often become fixtures of the communities they are in, and is the kind of preservation that the Alliance for Historic Wyoming seeks to encourage around the state.
"Richardsonian Romanesque Style (1880-1900)." Wentworthstudio.com.
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