When the tracks of the Northern Pacific reached Missoula in 1883, it was possibly the most significant event in the town’s history. Reliable transportation transformed the minor trade and lumber center to a major economic and commercial distribution hub for western Montana. The Northern Pacific constructed Missoula’s first depot in 1883. This temporary wooden structure was replaced with a fine new building in 1896, constructed by the Higgins brothers, who intended to turn it over to Northern Pacific officials in exchange for building costs. Just prior to completion, arson reduced the uninsured building to ruins. Several years later, the Northern Pacific built the present depot, which opened in 1901. The celebrated St. Paul architectural firm of Reed and Stem, which specialized in railroad depot design (and eventually designed over one hundred depots, as well as the engineering specifications for New York City’s Grand Central Station) drew the blueprints for this splendid symbol of Missoula’s importance. The brick depot, designed in simplified Renaissance Revival style, presides over Circle Square at the foot of the commercial district. Terra cotta roof tile, brick pilasters, and gently arched windows lend refined dignity. Terra cotta medallions, which enclose the Northern Pacific emblem, recall the original function of this commanding building, when the railroad reigned supreme.