Pocatello City Councilman Roger Bray unveiling Pocatello's designation as a new Train Town USA
Pocatello, Idaho, is a community built around the railroad and settled by individuals who worked for the railroad. The ethnic diversity of our citizenry is a result of workers who stayed to make the area their home. Between the railroad companies and the people, Pocatello quickly became one of the largest cities in Idaho, which is still true today.
Two subsidiaries of Union Pacific significantly impacted the development of Pocatello. In 1878, the Utah & Northern Railway Company brought narrow gauge rail lines from the south through Pocatello to Butte, Mont. In 1882, the Oregon Short Line Railway Company established its operations and built standard gauge rail lines through Pocatello Junction, as the community was known, on the way to Huntington, Ore. Four trunk lines of railroad track ran through the community. In 1889, the two companies combined to become the Oregon Short Line & Utah Northern Railway Company, and Pocatello officially became a city.
The two companies used unique depots in the beginning, including a boxcar on the side of the tracks and a wood framed building outside of the Pacific Hotel. In 1915, the Beaux Arts depot opened in Pocatello. The building had more grandeur than the small standard depots built by the Union Pacific Railroad because of Pocatello’s importance as a junction. Pocatello celebrated the opening with "a parade followed by speeches, street carnival, and dancing in the waiting room that lasted well past midnight."(1) The celebration commemorated not only the opening of the permanent depot, but also the importance of the railroad to Pocatello’s community.
Before automobiles became the main form of transportation, trains took people everywhere. This made the depot the center of activity prior to WWII, contributing greatly to the economic success of what is now considered old town Pocatello. Passenger and freight trains travelled regularly through the city. Other buildings were built to accommodate the needs of the railroad, such as the machine shops, a refrigeration plant, hotels and the timber plant to preserve the lifetime of the railroad ties contributing even more to the economic success of Pocatello.
The Union Pacific Railroad raised Pocatello into the city it is now, and in doing so, the City of Pocatello has several exhibits to honor UP's importance to the community. They can be found in an equipment display in Ross Park, a mural in the ISU Stephens Performing Arts Center, and on exhibit in the Bannock County Historical Museum. The elegant depot still stands at the head of old town Pocatello watching its community grow.
(1: Thornton Waite, "The Railroad at Pocatello.")