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Great Northern (GN) Railway Depot
Two railroad depots bracket downtown Fargo like bookends—the Northern Pacific (CS2) at the south end and this Great Northern at the north. This depot was constructed under the directive of railroad baron James J. Hill and designed by Bartlett, who later designed many GN depots, including the national landmark depot in Glacier National Park, Montana. The GN contributed enormously to the region’s cultural history and economy, by attracting European immigrants to settle the northern Great Plains. Fargo’s Richardsonian Romanesque depots are both characterized by rusticated sandstone foundations, large supporting arches, overhanging roof, and a heavy, weighted appearance. The GN depot’s four-faced illuminated clock tower has been a downtown orientation feature since the building’s completion. In 1935 the clock became nonfunctional and the clock faces were replaced with large painted “Westy the Goat” logos, the advertising icon for the GN. But in response to public outcry, by 1941 the railroad had restored the clocks to working order.
With a decline in passenger rail service, Amtrak abandoned the depot in 1986, and its demolition seemed imminent. But with financial support from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Fargo Heritage Society completed a feasibility study and subsequently city government assisted with acquiring the building from the BNSF conglomerate, which then owned the railroad depot. The renovated building reopened in 1995 as a microbrewery and restaurant. In 2010 the building was repurposed as a bicycle shop, the Great Northern Bicycle Company, and the “Westy the Goat” logo is cleverly invoked in a freestanding water tower reconstructed as an advertising billboard. In 1985 Amtrak relocated service to an adjacent freight storage building.
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