History of Green River

Train Depots, Expeditions and Historic Trails

Incorporated in 1868 and nestled along the mighty Green River, the city of Green River is filled with historical sites and interesting facts. With roots in the railroading industry, Green River was an essential destination for many travelers, Native Americans and even explorers. Along with the Union Pacific Railroad, various routes and historic trails also pass through the city including the Cherokee Trail, the Overland Trail and the historic transcontinental airmail route. 

History of the Green River Railyard

Beginning in 1868 when the Union Pacific Railroad reached the City of Green River and established a station there, the Green River Railyard has had a major impact on the area. Up until the 1970s, the railyard continued to expand with roundhouses, car sheds, machine shops, passenger depots and restaurants. At its height during World War II (1941-45), over 100 trains passed through Green River each day.

Then, in the 1950s diesel engines began to replace steam engines, airlines took a share of the passenger market and trucks hauled cargo instead of trains. Even so, the railroad was the primary employer in Green River until the growth of the trona mining industry in the 1970s.

In 1983 the last regularly scheduled passenger train passed through Green River. The roundhouse was torn down and the elegant passenger depot was converted into offices. Early hotels that once served travelers and railroad crews were demolished or sat vacant.

The Green River Railyard Today

The pedestrian overpass spans the Green River Railyard connecting the two sides of town and reminding visitors of the area’s local history. Pedestrian overpass bridges were built as a safe way to cross the tracks. Although most towns once had an overpass, those at Green River and Laramie are the only remaining ones in Wyoming. The pedestrian overpass offers an expansive view of the depot, railyards and occasional passing trains.

The Green River railyard is still used by the Union Pacific today although operations have been greatly reduced. Several freight trains still pass through on a daily basis.

The historic Green River depot can be viewed from the outside and appears much as it did when in use.

Expedition of John Wesley Powell

Green River is home to Expedition Island—the starting point for Major John Wesley Powell's landmark expeditions in 1869 and 1871. In May 1869, Powell and a group of nine men set course for the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon, launching their boats from a Union Pacific flatbed railroad car. This expedition was considered the last great exploration of unchartered territory in the continental United States. 

Today, Expedition Island is a community gathering place for for water adventures, local festivals and outdoor recreation. 

Learn more about the history of Green River at the Sweetwater County Historical Museum.