Grand Canyon Railway is surrounded by both beauty and history—and nowhere is that more evident than at our historic train depots. Each built over 100 years ago, the Williams Depot and the Grand Canyon Depot are national historic treasures, and are still responsible for providing comfort and convenience to thousands of people each and every day.
Grand Canyon Railway departs each day from the historic Williams Depot, located at the south end of the rail line. Built in 1908 by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, the depot was an oasis for travelers heading to and from California along the main line running from Los Angeles to Chicago. It was home to one the Harvey House Hotels, which had 43 rooms, as well as a formal dining room, cafe, bar and a news room.
Today, the depot is where passengers of Grand Canyon Railway pick up their tickets. There is also an expansive gift shop in the depot full of Grand Canyon Railway and Grand Canyon mementos. The oldest poured-concrete structure in the state of Arizona, the Williams Depot and the original Fray Marcos Hotel are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The northern terminus of the line resides in Grand Canyon National Park. Constructed in 1909-1910, Grand Canyon Depot is part of the Grand Canyon National Park Historic District and is a National Historic Landmark. Designed by architect Francis W. Wilson of Santa Barbara, California, the log and wood-frame structure is two stories high. Originally, the downstairs was designated for station facilities, and the upstairs was for the station agent’s family.
Today, the first floor is used for railway passenger services. The building is one of approximately 14 log depots known to have been constructed in the United States, and one of only three remaining. Of the three, the Grand Canyon Depot is the only one in which logs were used as the primary structural material and which still serves an operating railroad. The depot’s logs are squared on three sides creating bearing surfaces, flat interior surfaces and a rustic exterior appearance. Just beyond the depot is the El Tovar Hotel, built in 1905 by the railroad. The El Tovar is the signature hotel along the rim. The railroad built the depot five years after the hotel and placed it conveniently close for the rail passengers.
An innovative restaurateur and marketer, Fred Harvey (1835-1901) is credited with creating the first restaurant chain in the United States. His foray into the industry began in 1875, when Harvey opened two railroad eating-houses in Kansas and Colorado. Convinced of the potential profits from providing high-quality food and service, he then entered into a partnership with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway in 1878, whereby he was given exclusive rights to manage and operate his eating houses, lunch stands, and hotel facilities upon the Santa Fe’s railroads west of the Missouri River.
With an emphasis on providing first-class food, service, and cleanliness, Fred Harvey and his employees successfully brought new higher standards of civility and dining to a region widely regarded in the era as “the Wild West.” At its peak, there were 84 Harvey Houses, and Harvey became renowned for promoting tourism in the American Southwest. His legacy continued after his death in 1901, with his sons continuing to build and operate Harvey Houses, including El Tovar, the Grand Canyon’s first luxury hotel which opened in 1905, and still operates to this day.