Historic Longview Depot

An Amtrak train sits on the tracks at the Historic Longview Depot on Monday September 9, 2019. (Michael Cavazos/News-Journal Photo)

Its location in the area long known as Longview Junction is fitting.

The Historic Longview Train Depot is a relic from the city’s earliest days as a train town, but whose place in the modern world is secured as a functioning Amtrak station and cornerstone of the Longview Transportation Center, where local train and bus services are headquartered.

In the view of one who’s watched the comings and goings at the depot for nearly 50 years, the depot also serves as a junction between the past and the future.

“The truth about this building is this is the footprint for the next generation,” said Griff Hubbard, the last of the employees of the old Texas and Pacific Railway in Longview. He now is product line agent for Amtrak’s Texas Eagle. “The airline industry wants out of the short haul market. They want people riding higher speed trains to and from the DFW and Shreveport regions. This is going to be the next generation’s mobility access to the world. What’s old is new again.”

Longview’s rail roots can be traced back to 1870 and O.H. Methvin’s award of 150 acres to Southern Pacific Railroad in 1870. Then, in 1872, International Railroad began building a line between Longview and Palestine — to the area that was at that time just east of Longview, known as “the junction.” The Texas and Pacific railway later acquired Southern Pacific, and, in 1939 and 1940, replaced a station built on that site with the current depot.

The survivor

The building at 905 Pacific Ave. has survived many changes since then, at one time serving as Longview heaquarters for the Union Pacific Railroad and welcoming passengers on Amtrak’s Texas Eagle passenger train route for decades.

Longview once was home to three depots. The one at Pacific Avenue is the only one to survive, with its lasting influence secured after the city of Longview acquired the depot from Union Pacific. A two-year, $2.2 million renovation and restoration project completed in 2014 turned the depot’s clock back to 1940.

“Designed in the Colonial Revival Style, the train depot, also called the T&P/MO-PAC depot, includes stylized quoins, a brick cornice and grey stone trim used to highlight the coping, keystones and lintels,” the building’s state historical marker says. “The one-and-a-half-story building contained a ticket office, waiting rooms, restrooms, telegraph office, yard office, baggage/express office and mail room. The original dormers were removed sometime after construction but were later restored. Two porches were part of the original structure for a waiting area, baggage and freight.”

Hubbard stood outside recently, recalling how the front covered porch, defined by square-shaped brick columns, is part of the building’s original footprint. It had at one point been enclosed for Amtrak office, but was opened up again during the city’s construction project.

Hubbard motioned to what is once again the front door to the depot.

“In 2014, one of the last things done, was this door was ground down to put this original paint back on it. This was just covered up with plyboard over the years,” he said of the door and its windows.

Separate waiting rooms

He recalled, though, what was revealed as a worker was grinding through layers of paint on the door: “The old paint chips off, and it comes out as if it was 1939 again, and it says ‘white patrons only.’ ... It just came out in big bold black letters on the original white surface.”

That also explains why the depot has two waiting rooms, now referred to as the west and east waiting rooms. The west waiting room originally was for white passengers, while black passengers were restricted to the east waiting room, with the ticket office in the middle, Hubbard.

The design wasn’t unique to Longview.

“Most of the Texas and Pacific railroad stations between Texarkana and El Paso and between Marshall and New Orleans were built this way,” Hubbard said. “This is the last one still left standing with its original footprint.”

Amtrak passengers currently walk out from the depot to board. That process functioned much differently when the depot first was built, which Hubbard explains as he stood at the stairs to the depot’s basement. Passengers then walked through a tunnel under the tracks to board on the other side of the tracks.

“You ingressed and egressed the train down through these stairs, through a subway platform and up onto a platform,” Hubbard said. “You didn’t walk straight out.”

Tunnels to the past

People driving under the Mobberly Avenue train overpass might have noticed a door in the east side of the overpass’ wall, on northbound Mobberly Avenue.

“There’s a big silver door that’s welded shut,” Hubbard said. “That was the original cab stand ... “

Passengers could exit the train, follow the subway tunnel down the stairs to catch a cab or to be picked up by a family member under the bridge. The tunnel has since been filled in.

Hubbard said original restoration plans had called for using the basement area for meeting space and maybe a gift shop, but the facility has encountered a problem with water in the basement. As he spoke, a fan was blowing to dry out water in the area on a recent day. It’s particularly bad during heavy rains, Hubbard said, but groundwater seeps in at other times.

“What’s happened is since 1939, the drainage and the topography around this whole building has changed,” he said.

The basement, however, still contains the original coal chute. Coal would be dumped down the chute and used to heat the depot with a steam generator, as well as passenger cars while trains were parked at the depot.

Back on the main floor, Hubbard shows where there once was a telegraph office that served the railroad and Western Union.

“That’s why this window seal is lower than all the rest, because it was where the telegraph operator sat,” he said. “You could actually come right there and receive or send a Western Union message.”

More history

Outside the window is an area where the “telegraph boy” would chain up his bicycle between delivering messages. Hubbard recalled that when old flooring was removed in years past, it revealed that the telegraph area had been painted red, with words warning that there was “sensitive equipment.”

“I can’t tell you the thousands of wires that crisscrossed this,” he said.

Past the two waiting rooms, the depot has a passenger lounge area, where the Gregg County Historical Museum has a rotating display and a phone booth that once stood guard outside the depot has been repurposed for modern times — into a charging station.

Today, the depot’s original baggage area is once again being used for its intended purpose. At one point, Union Pacific had chopped portions of the building up for office space. The company still occupies an area for a communications room, Hubbard said. The Longview Police Department’s Police Outreach Services Team, which focuses its work on the homeless population, also has offices in the building.

Hubbard said before Longview stepped in to become the building’s owner, there had been plans to raze it and turn it into parking. “

A great, great debt of gratitude is owed to then-Mayor Jay Dean and then-City Manager David Willard, who had the vision and the foresight to realize the truth about this building,” Hubbard said.

Its location in the area long known as Longview Junction is fitting.

The Historic Longview Train Depot is a relic from the city’s earliest days as a train town, but whose place in the modern world is secured as a functioning Amtrak station and cornerstone of the Longview Transportation Center, where local train and bus services are headquartered.

In the view of one who’s watched the comings and goings at the depot for nearly 50 years, the depot also serves as a junction between the past and the future.

“The truth about this building is this is the footprint for the next generation,” said Griff Hubbard, the last of the employees of the old Texas and Pacific Railway in Longview. He now is product line agent for Amtrak’s Texas Eagle. “The airline industry wants out of the short haul market. They want people riding higher speed trains to and from the DFW and Shreveport regions. This is going to be the next generation’s mobility access to the world. What’s old is new again.”

Longview’s rail roots can be traced back to 1870 and O.H. Methvin’s award of 150 acres to Southern Pacific Railroad in 1870. Then, in 1872, International Railroad began building a line between Longview and Palestine — to the area that was at that time just east of Longview, known as “the junction.” The Texas and Pacific railway later acquired Southern Pacific, and, in 1939 and 1940, replaced a station built on that site with the current depot.

The survivor

The building at 905 Pacific Ave. has survived many changes since then, at one time serving as Longview heaquarters for the Union Pacific Railroad and welcoming passengers on Amtrak’s Texas Eagle passenger train route for decades.

Longview once was home to three depots. The one at Pacific Avenue is the only one to survive, with its lasting influence secured after the city of Longview acquired the depot from Union Pacific. A two-year, $2.2 million renovation and restoration project completed in 2014 turned the depot’s clock back to 1940.

“Designed in the Colonial Revival Style, the train depot, also called the T&P/MO-PAC depot, includes stylized quoins, a brick cornice and grey stone trim used to highlight the coping, keystones and lintels,” the building’s state historical marker says. “The one-and-a-half-story building contained a ticket office, waiting rooms, restrooms, telegraph office, yard office, baggage/express office and mail room. The original dormers were removed sometime after construction but were later restored. Two porches were part of the original structure for a waiting area, baggage and freight.”

Hubbard stood outside recently, recalling how the front covered porch, defined by square-shaped brick columns, is part of the building’s original footprint. It had at one point been enclosed for Amtrak office, but was opened up again during the city’s construction project.

Hubbard motioned to what is once again the front door to the depot.

“In 2014, one of the last things done, was this door was ground down to put this original paint back on it. This was just covered up with plyboard over the years,” he said of the door and its windows.

Separate waiting rooms

He recalled, though, what was revealed as a worker was grinding through layers of paint on the door: “The old paint chips off, and it comes out as if it was 1939 again, and it says ‘white patrons only.’ ... It just came out in big bold black letters on the original white surface.”

That also explains why the depot has two waiting rooms, now referred to as the west and east waiting rooms. The west waiting room originally was for white passengers, while black passengers were restricted to the east waiting room, with the ticket office in the middle, Hubbard

The design wasn’t unique to Longview.

“Most of the Texas and Pacific railroad stations between Texarkana and El Paso and between Marshall and New Orleans were built this way,” Hubbard said. “This is the last one still left standing with its original footprint.”

Amtrak passengers currently walk out from the depot to board. That process functioned much differently when the depot first was built, which Hubbard explains as he stood at the stairs to the depot’s basement. Passengers then walked through a tunnel under the tracks to board on the other side of the tracks.

“You ingressed and egressed the train down through these stairs, through a subway platform and up onto a platform,” Hubbard said. “You didn’t walk straight out.”

Tunnels to the past

People driving under the Mobberly Avenue train overpass might have noticed a door in the east side of the overpass’ wall, on northbound Mobberly Avenue.

“There’s a big silver door that’s welded shut,” Hubbard said. “That was the original cab stand ... “

Passengers could exit the train, follow the subway tunnel down the stairs to catch a cab or to be picked up by a family member under the bridge. The tunnel has since been filled in.

Hubbard said original restoration plans had called for using the basement area for meeting space and maybe a gift shop, but the facility has encountered a problem with water in the basement. As he spoke, a fan was blowing to dry out water in the area on a recent day. It’s particularly bad during heavy rains, Hubbard said, but groundwater seeps in at other times.

“What’s happened is since 1939, the drainage and the topography around this whole building has changed,” he said.

The basement, however, still contains the original coal chute. Coal would be dumped down the chute and used to heat the depot with a steam generator, as well as passenger cars while trains were parked at the depot.

Back on the main floor, Hubbard shows where there once was a telegraph office that served the railroad and Western Union.

“That’s why this window seal is lower than all the rest, because it was where the telegraph operator sat,” he said. “You could actually come right there and receive or send a Western Union message.”

More history

Outside the window is an area where the “telegraph boy” would chain up his bicycle between delivering messages. Hubbard recalled that when old flooring was removed in years past, it revealed that the telegraph area had been painted red, with words warning that there was “sensitive equipment.”

“I can’t tell you the thousands of wires that crisscrossed this,” he said.

Past the two waiting rooms, the depot has a passenger lounge area, where the Gregg County Historical Museum has a rotating display and a phone booth that once stood guard outside the depot has been repurposed for modern times — into a charging station.

Today, the depot’s original baggage area is once again being used for its intended purpose. At one point, Union Pacific had chopped portions of the building up for office space. The company still occupies an area for a communications room, Hubbard said. The Longview Police Department’s Police Outreach Services Team, which focuses its work on the homeless population, also has offices in the building.

Hubbard said before Longview stepped in to become the building’s owner, there had been plans to raze it and turn it into parking.

“A great, great debt of gratitude is owed to then-Mayor Jay Dean and then-City Manager David Willard, who had the vision and the foresight to realize the truth about this building,” Hubbard said.