Central Washington University

Ask Wellington: Did a train once run through the middle of the CWU campus?

3 Train through campus 60s

Aerial view of CWU, taken in the 1960s, showing the railroad tracks through the center of campus.

When CWU was founded in 1891, the northern boundary of the campus’ property abutted the right-of-way of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul Railroad, and Pacific Railroad. In 1908, the railroad built its Puget Sound Extension from South Dakota to Seattle, which included laying tracks along its right-of-way through Ellensburg.

CWU, however, continued to increase in size and to accommodate future growth began acquiring land north of the tracks.

In fact, as is noted in the CWU Capital Master Plan 2019-2029, “The layout of the campus shows evidence of the effect the railroad had on the development of the campus: parking lots abutted the corridor, walkways were located to avoid it, and buildings were situated to face away from it.”

In the 1960s, CWU President James Brooks began discussing how to consolidate the campus to make it more pedestrian-friendly. In a 2005 interview, Brooks recalled that when he arrived on campus as a student in the late 1940s, the campus was intersected by several major roads, an irrigation ditch, and the train tracks.

“We had Highway 10, the main cross-state highway right in front of barge Hall going straight through from Seattle to Spokane. Also, we had the main route to the airport right over here, right in front of Bouillon going straight to the airport,” he said. “We had an irrigation canal coming through the middle of campus, the so-called Ganges. We had the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad coming through the lower campus from east to west, so we were cut into many chunks.”

Brooks said he made it a priority to try to improve access throughout CWU’s property in order to create a more pedestrian-friendly campus.

Construction of Interstate 90 relocated much of the traffic from Highway 10 (now University Avenue) while closing the road through campus that led to the airport resolved another traffic issue. While the canal couldn’t be moved, the university succeeded in sprucing it up with new landscaping.

In 1980, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad abandoned the Puget Sound Extension and CWU acquired the rights to the land that passed through the campus.

Today, the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail (formerly known as the John Wayne Pioneer Trail), which follows the former railroad bed for about 300 miles across the state of Washington, passes through several acres at the northeastern edge of the campus.

So, the answer is, yes, for more than 70 years railroad tracks intersected the CWU campus in Ellensburg.

3 Chicago Milwaukee St Paul Railraod tracks west of Craigâs Hill Kittitas County Washington circa 19101919 copy

View of the railroad tracks, east of the campus, taken in about 1910


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