Great State: Shawnee’s Cathedral of History

SHAWNEE, OKLAHOMA — The big stones came from Indiana and Kansas.

In 1903 builders of Shawnee’s Santa Fe depot constructed a tower to make it look like a Scottish lighthouse.

But the floor plan inside is all cathedral.

The old depot is now Pottawatomie County’s church of history.

“This is the most photographed building in Oklahoma,” claims volunteer curator Johnny Kneisel.

“This was a pretty fancy building back in its day. All the woodwork, even the finish on the woodwork is original.”

Kneisel grew up with the depot.

For the past 25 years he’s helped safeguard this storehouse of history.

Train stuff is only part of what’s here.

Beneath the ceilings made from wooden boxcar stats, the old horse that sat in Kib Warren’s hardware store for decades has a stall here.

A parlor organ that survived the 1924 twister sits in a corner of the baggage room still un-claimed.

If you want to know anything about the old Benson Park, or the office Carrie Nation had in town, if you’re curious to know about the horse trough fountain that stood downtown for many years, it stands just outside the depot right next to the oldest house in Shawnee, Etta Ray Beard’s cabin.

Workers moved it to the depot yard log by log a few years ago.

“It was built in 1891,” says Kneisel.”

The depot building sat empty for 20 years during he 60′s an 70′s.

A buyer from Pennsylvania wanted to take the stones away to make a restaurant.

But there was too much history here already.

Too many people sat in the wooden benches.

Too many put their feet in an old, coin operated, x-ray machine to see how their shoes fit.

“This is really an x-ray machine,” asks an incredulous visitor. “Yeah,” smiles Johnny.

Instead of being torn down, the Shawnee Depot attracted other memories and relics.

Behind the thick, stone walls resides a historical sanctuary no one here would ever dream of tearing down.

Kneisel says, “Everybody comes to the depot to takes pictures and walks around.”

Once a year the depot celebrates a homecoming for people with Shawnee roots.

For more information on hours of operation and what’s there go to http://www.santafedepotmuseum.org