The Eden Prairie City Council is poised to take the final step in creating a replica of the water tank and train depot that, when railroads ruled, stood east of Eden Prairie Road and south of the historic Smith-Douglas-More House.
Those original railroad structures are long gone, and the replica depot isn’t identical to the so-called Washburn train depot that was an Eden Prairie transportation hub for many years, starting in 1871, when the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad tracks were built here.
But, the new buildings will return to life some of EP’s earliest “downtown,” which not only included the depot and the Smith-Douglas-More House that occasionally provided rooms to train travelers, but also a nearby creamery, blacksmith shop, and Miller’s Store – a general store, meeting place, and host to the community’s first telephone, according to the Eden Prairie Historical Society.
On the city council’s agenda Tuesday, Oct. 18, is the approval of a $92,000 contract with International Tank and Pipe Company, the only company Eden Prairie city officials could find to design and prepare for construction of the 10-foot-tall wooden water tank that will complete the replica project.
Under the contract, materials for the wooden tank would arrive in May 2023, at which time the tank would be constructed, according to a city staff report.
The tank will have an educational purpose only: a water stop was necessary every few miles for the early steam locomotives. But, the already-built replica of Eden Prairie’s former train depot also has a functional purpose. It serves as the pump station and holds mechanical equipment associated with the new, mammoth water reservoir – 140 feet in diameter and 4 million gallons in volume – that the city has built nearby to keep up with Eden Prairie’s growing population and demand for drinking water and fire service.
The water storage reservoir and adjacent pump station have been built on land formerly owned by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), just a stone’s throw from Highway 212, meeting the city’s need to locate the reservoir project in central or western Eden Prairie. The $9 million project – financed through the sale of bonds and one of the largest public works projects undertaken by the city in the last 10 years – is already operational.
During the project’s planning, city officials decided to give the requisite pump station an architectural design that borrows from the former railroad depot and water tank that once stood a couple of hundred yards away, and use it to educate residents about Eden Prairie’s railroad history. Contractors used modern-day fiber-cement and metal building materials to approximate the wooden siding and shingles that composed the historic depot.
“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to recreate some of the history of this land?’” Director of Public Works Robert Ellis said about the pump station-turned-railroad depot.
“I will give the credit to Robert Ellis; it was his idea,” said Kathie Case, president of the Eden Prairie Historical Society. “He really loves our history, which is awesome.”
The city reached out to the Historical Society and its own Heritage Preservation Commission to help bring the idea to life.
Ellis estimates that the unique design represents only about 1% of the overall project cost and follows a pattern taken with several other city transportation projects, such as the Preserve Boulevard improvements that incorporated public art into the street design.
Other minor additions remaining in the project include interpretive signage that draws attention to Eden Prairie’s railroad history. The replica project is adjacent to the Minnesota River Bluffs Regional Trail operated by the Three Rivers Park District, and so a public water fountain has been added for thirsty trail users.
Visitors won’t be able to enter the pump house – that needs to remain secure, said Ellis – but they can walk the railroad platform above a short segment of railroad track and imagine they are residents of an Eden Prairie that existed 150 years ago.
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