Rock Island Railroad Depot Museum
910 2nd Street
Fairbury, NE 68352
(402) 729-5131 or
Email Rock Island Railroad Depot
Wednesdays – Sundays
1:00 pm - 5:00 pm
The two-story Rock Island Railroad Depot is a historic stop that's
sure to impress. The
Rock Island Railroad Depot is one of two remaining brick Rock Island
Railroad Depots in Nebraska and is the largest depot still in existence
between Chicago and Denver.
Of the 36 Rock Island Depots built in Nebraska, the Fairbury Depot
is the only one that has been restored to it's historical integrity.
Fairbury's Depot, which housed the Western Division Headquarters
of the Rock Island Railroad, is now a Rock Island Railroad museum.
It houses Rock Island Railroad artifacts and displays memorabilla
donated by former railroad employees and their families. When you
visit the Fairbury Rock Island Railroad Depot, you'll see the restored
main lobby, ticket office, lounges, and baggage areas. A large
model train display is sure to delight visitors of all ages.
The second floor, which once housed the trainmaster's office, superintendent's office, telegrapher and dispatch rooms. These areas are a children's interpretive area, conference room, curator's office, model train room, and restored telegraph room.
The beautiful gardens that once graced the front of the Rock Island Depot have been restored and highlight the Rock Island Railroad Memory Wall, constructed by Endicott Clay Products. The Rock Island Railroad Depot has meeting room space available for special programs and meetings, and also a gift shop specializing in train souvenirs.
Special all-day programs are held the first weekend in June and each December. Museum hours are Wednesdays thru Sundays from 1-5 pm, with tours by appointment. Join us the first weekend in June for Rock Island Rail Days.
Those That Have Gone Before May Still Be With Us.
Who’s Really Living in the Rock Island Depot?
Humans may not be the only visitors to the old Rock Island Depot.
At the southern edge of Fairbury, bounded by tracks on the south, is the Rock Island Museum, formerly the Rock Island Depot. This two story brick building has seen the comings and goings of many people traveling north, south, east or west since the 1800s.
At one time, trains were considered the fastest and most exclusive form of travel, so this depot played host to every type of individual. It wasn’t until 1980 that the Rock Island closed this depot as trains began to diminish as a popular form of travel.
The Fairbury Depot is one of only two brick depots that remain standing on the old Rock Island line in Nebraska, and is the only one that has been restored to its original splendor.
The depot is now the home of artifacts of the past railroad history donated by train enthusiasts and past railroaders and family. It has drawn visitors from all over the nation.
Questions that are often asked are, "Are artifacts the only thing from the past that the museum houses?" and "Are museum fans the only visitors that it attracts?"
Denise Andersen, curator for the Rock Island Museum, will confidently say that there is much more at the depot than what meets the eye. She has gotten used to calling out greetings as she hears doors open and close only to find she has greeted empty space.
Floors creak in sequence, much like footsteps would sound down the hall not to mention the shadows that flicker past the corner of your field of vision. It has become normal for Andersen to come into her office and find cabinet doors open.
"It is almost like they are looking for something," laughed Andersen. "But this was a school before the depot was built on this ground so you never know."
Over the past four or five years, Andersen has had several requests from different paranormal groups in the area to come and investigate the depot. Andersen reports that there have been at least four separate investigations and each time upon completion of the investigation the group asks if they can return for a second investigation.
"One group has come back twice to investigate already and have found the attic the most intimidating spot," Andersen explains. "The other groups have all requested a return visit based on information that they had gotten the first time."
Andersen points out that there has been a lot of coming and going for people at the depot. There have also been unexpected deaths at the depot due to heart attacks from passengers.
The most tragic story, she shared, was the great train wreck of 1894.
The Rock Island train departed from Fairbury carrying a full load to Lincoln.
Among the passengers was William O. Hambel, along with Col. C. J. Bills who was later to become the head of the Nebraska National Guard. They were traveling to Lincoln to attend a meeting to discuss the Spanish-American War and the involvement of the Nebraska National Guard. It was on that fateful trip originating from Fairbury’s depot that "the holocaust caused by fiends" occurred quoting the Nebraska State Journal on Aug. 10, 1894.
It was discovered that someone had pried the rails loose, pulling out spikes leaving them lying on the bridge. The wreck resulted in the loss of 11 lives (at least from Fairbury) and injuries to many others.
W.O. Hambel’s belongings were transferred to his home. However over the years his traveling trunk made its way into an auction. A gentleman bought the trunk and upon seeing the name and the Rock Island passage stickers donated the trunk to the Rock Island Museum.
Could it be W. O. Hambel’s ghost is following his trunk through the years and over the miles? That is one question that has frequently been asked. It has yet to be fully answered.
Andersen reported that when renovations began in 1997 unexplained activity appeared to increase. She has gotten used to the unexplained knocks and shadows play as part of her everyday life at the museum. Nothing has ever happened to cause her distress although she does admit to taking second to catch her breath once in a while.
It is said that ghosts and spirits are most active two or three days before and after the full or new moon. Each October, Rock Island Museum conducts late night tours of their facility to help celebrate Halloween, the suggested time span for ghost sightings. These will only be tours for those who would like to experience the depot in the dark of night.
One never knows who they may meet along the way.