When the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas (KATY) depot of Fate was first built in Rockwall
County, it served many functions. Passengers and freight moved on and off of trains,
Fate’s mail traveled efficiently, and the telegraph chirped messages to distant places.
After the building moved to Dallas Heritage Village at Old City Park in 1973, it remained
a multi use structure. It was an orientation center, with a film projected on a screen in
the freight room from a projection booth in the former segregated waiting room, and had
a kitchenette for catering. Then it became a static depot exhibit, with train books, a
mail-sorting exercise and a flat car out front.
Changing standards and weather damage took their toll, and by 2014 the depot had
long needed repairs, upgrades and new exhibit design. The Kalman and Ida Wolens
Foundation funded the full project in memory of Bennett Miller, whose many services to
the museum included bringing in the rail car. The building, its outside accessories and
its interior could be redone to better educate the public about railroads, depots and all
of their social and economic implications.
Along with a new roof, the structure needed careful, sensitive wood replacement. The
battens that were originally replaced by the museum in the 1970s were far from the
right size, which had been visually disturbing for forty years. New ones were milled to
the original size and profile. Meanwhile, carpenters used geometric calculations to cut
new verge boards to match the fanciful design sported by all Katy depots of the late
1800s. Rotted window sills were consolidated with epoxy, and all the windows rendered
operable. Visible graffiti in the freight room was verified as authentic by locating the
names in the records of the Fate employees.
The rail car took almost as much work as the building. A conservator documented the
faint original markings, and Ron Siebler studied the history of flat cars to determine its
age and the string of alterations it had endured. Then, the failed paint was removed,
and the car repainted with appropriate signage. A cargo exhibit on top includes crates
and barrels and agricultural equipment.
The KATY sign hanging near the freight room was in very poor condition, but
unquestionably authentic. Conservator Brad Ford Smith of Studio Six Art Conservation
restored it, after removing several spots of earlier, amateur repairs. That sign gives
visitors a clue to what they will find inside the depot waiting room, a new exhibit on the
KATY, the railroads’ role in building modern Dallas, and the social and cultural
implications of the railroads. Various travelers have left their trunks open to reveal their
lives, including a teacher, a young dentist who would soon be known as Doc Holliday,
and Dallas’ first African-American architect, William Sidney Pittman.
The ticket office contains working telegraph keys and a route-planning game for
children. As they move to the freight room, they review railroad images from the 1940s
and are challenged to calculate freight weights and charges. The interactive nature of
this exhibit follows the latest discoveries in effective museum education. It also uses the
depot structure to convey historical information in an authentic atmosphere.
This project accomplished a stellar act of building preservation. The building now
supports Dallas Heritage Village’s dual mission of education and preservation to a new
and elevated degree.