Restoration of the WI&M Railway Depot at Potlatch


Old photo of Potlatch depot

The WI&M Railway Depot was the first commercial building erected in Potlatch, Idaho and was completed in June, 1906. Measuring 24’ x 100’ on the platform level, 28’ x 100’ on the second floor office level, and with a vault room on both levels, this impressive wood structure was designed by C. Ferris White of Spokane, WA.
Built to house three sets of offices—for the WI&M Railway, Potlatch Lumber Company (PLCo), and the company town of Potlatch—it became obvious almost immediately that the depot’s 5,200 square feet was of insufficient size for the monumental administrative tasks at hand. A hastily constructed office near the mill became the PLCo office a few months later and for several years thereafter.

(A PLCo and company town office building was constructed in 1913 on the hillside behind the depot. This building has housed the Potlatch City Hall since the company buildings were sold to city occupants in the 1950’s, and was restored in 2005-06.)

As business declined in the 1930’s, the second-floor depot offices were remodeled as apartments, and rented for many years.  But the platform level of the Depot, and the adjoining Annex building, were used exclusively by the WI&M, and every railroad company that operated the rail line thereafter: The Milwaukee Road in 1963; the Burlington Northern (BN) in 1981; and the Palouse River & Coulee City Railroad (PCC) in 1996.

The WI&M Depot at Potlatch, along with 3-acres of line side property, was purchased by the WI&M Ry HPG, in July 2001, from the PCC, a subsidiary company of Watco, Inc. of Pittsburg, KS. Donations for purchase of the depot were raised from HPG members, local residents, and other individuals across the country. Dubbed the “Founding Fifty”, their contribution to saving this historic building cannot be overemphasized. Without their support, this National Historic Structure would have been lost to time and the elements.

Five months earlier, in February of 2001, armed with only a Watco letter of intent to sell, the HPG’s vice-president Jack Coyner had applied for a $500,000 Transportation Enhancement restoration of historic transportation structures grant through the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD). The HPG was awarded the grant in October 2001.

Receiving the restoration funding took much, much longer. The project design was finally approved by ITD in July 2006. The restoration contract work was bid in April, 2007. Initial work raised the structure, replaced the old foundation, installed a new roof, and restored the depot’s exterior.

Interior restoration of a portion of the first floor was accomplished by HPG volunteers in the spring of 2010.  The former ticket office and men’s waiting room were restored as built.  The women’s ticket areas and rear hallway were reconfigured into an office space, kitchenette, ADA restroom, and janitorial closet.  A doorway was inserted into the stairwell from the north hallway, utilizing a door saved from the 1906 Genesee School.
A matching door was installed to access the 950 sq ft former freight room.  This area will eventually house the HPG’s office and WI&M/PLCo interpretive center.  Installation of an HVAC system capable of supporting the first floor is now a priority.

Removing the second floor plaster lath will be accomplished, with the assistance of US Bank volunteers and others, in the spring of 2011.  The HPG is working with local professionals to determine the best utilization of office spaces for the second floor.  The HPG’s goal is to retain a commercial management company to attract and retain tenants in adequate numbers to pay the depot’s future maintenance needs.

To see what we’ve done and to track our progress, please visit the Potlatch Depot Blog