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Building Trails

Depot in Center Point Is a Trailside Landmark to Iowa Town’s 1914 Awakening

By: Cory Matteson, Amy Kapp
April 30, 2024

Waterloo, Cedar Falls & Northern Railway depot along the Iowa's Cedar Valley Nature Trail | Photo by Patrick Travers
Waterloo, Cedar Falls & Northern Railway depot along Iowa's Cedar Valley Nature Trail | Photo by Patrick Travers

Now home to a museum that preserves the stories of the eastern Iowa town for which it is named, the Center Point Depot is a key piece of area history. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2018, the depot was one of eight along the Waterloo, Cedar Falls & Northern Railway (WCF&N). It now offers people on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail a rest stop with a world of information inside.

The building, as well as the bike trail, are owned and maintained by the Linn County Conservation Board; the Center Point Community Historical Society runs the depot museum. When the building earned its landmark protection status in 2018, the historical society’s first president described it as a “win-win for everybody” to the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

WCF&N Center Point Depot and Substation circa 1917 labeled "A Stucco Station" | Source: Westingtonhouse 1917:13

The former WCF&N depot has been a point of pride in Center Point for over a century. As construction of the Center Point Depot plugged along into the middle of July 1914, the Center Point Independent looked ahead to the day of its completion. Rumors swirled of an ox roast planned for the grand opening, a celebration that would rival the Iowa town’s “Home Coming,” “Field Day” and “Watermelon and Sauerkraut Days.” The paper advocated for making the new depot’s debut an event for the ages.

“Wake up, let people know that Center Point is on the MAP, not on the NAP,” the July 23, 1914, paper argued. “We understand there is a bunch of money already to start things moving. Why not get the businessman and citizens together some of those fine evenings, and lay a few plans. Wake up.”

When that big depot would happen was an ever-pressing question in the summer of 1914. The headline of the story was, “WHAT IS THE MATTER.”

The wait would soon be over. In September of 1914, the Center Point Independent reported that the railway staff “took up their handsome and commodious office in this fine new depot.”

Passenger service discontinued in 1956, and, after the railroad changed hands, freight service discontinued about two decades later. The Center Point Depot underwent several major renovations en route to achieving landmark status. After falling into a state of disrepair by the 1980s, the building was restored and refurbished in 1984—in the same timeframe as when the Cedar Valley Nature Trail came online. In 1998, the depot was adapted for use as a museum.

“One final detail of note on the exterior are the old interurban rails that have been cut into sections and set vertically into the ground at each corner of the building like fence posts,” reads the application for landmark status submitted to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Among its many successful arguments in favor of landmark status, the application pointed to seven “aspects of integrity.” Among them were its setting, its elements of Mission-style architecture, which were unique among the depots on the WCF&N railway, and its feeling, “because it evokes a sense of time and place as a railroad depot.”

And, as the application pointed out, its preservation grows more important as other links to the railway’s history vanish. Two former WCF&N bridges, badly damaged by debris during the 2008 Cedar River flood, had to be replaced for trail users to safely pass over them, making surviving spaces like the Center Point Depot “all-the-more significant as representations of the WCF&N’s history,” the application reads.

Visitors can explore the fine depot for themselves for free on Sunday afternoons from the first Sunday in May through the second Sunday in October. There, they can learn more about the interurban railway that the Cedar Valley Nature Trail now largely follows.

Iowa's Cedar Valley Nature Trail | Photo by Nathan Houck, courtesy Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation
Iowa’s Cedar Valley Nature Trail | Photo by Nathan Houck, courtesy Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation

Authored by Cory Matteson, with contributions by Amy Kapp

This article was developed as part of Rails to Trails Conservancy’s Great American Rail-Trail® historical marker program—launched in partnership with the William G. Pomeroy Foundation to lift hidden histories and points of local pride along the 3,700-mile developing route connecting Washington State and Washington, D.C. 

A trailside marker, created through a collaboration by the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, Linn County Conservation, Rails to Trails Conservancy and the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, now commemorates the depot and museum, home to the Center Point Community Historical Society.

Marker Location: 700 E. Washington St., Center Point, IA





Cory Matteson
Cory Matteson

Cory Matteson is a contributor to Rails to Trails magazine and the TrailBlog. He lives in Springfield, Missouri, where he works as a public affairs reporter for the nonprofit Springfield Daily Citizen.

Amy Kapp | Photo courtesy Amy Kapp
Amy Kapp

Amy Kapp serves as Editorial Director and Editor-in-Chief of Rails to Trails magazine. Kapp frequently writes about the impact of, and vast historical and cultural connections made by, America's rail-trails, parks and public lands.

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