By Dedra Cordle
A small pang would rip through Steve Jackson’s heart as he looked at the historic train depot slowly deteriorating by the railroad tracks in downtown Grove City.
When he was a child, he said, his mother took him to the depot to see its last passenger train travel through the city in 1956, an experience that kick-started a life-long interest in the small building that helped the town grow and thrive.
“It has always been a fascinating piece of history to me,” Jackson said. “A truly great piece of this city’s history.”
As he moved through adulthood and the building was still open to public meetings, he would consider himself lucky to be able to park himself in an historical place. Then, as the location became a storage facility for historical society records, he considered himself fortunate to belong to an organization that preserves history.
“Being in that building could be a fearsome thing because it was located so close to the tracks,” said Jackson. “I remember one time I was looking out the window and was sure an incoming train would jump the tracks. I thought it was the end of me, or, even worse, the end of the historic train depot.”
As the years passed, public meetings were no longer permitted to be held there and historic documents found a new, and more secure, home. With little use and nominal funds being used for upkeep, the depot whose origins date back to the late 1880s began to decay outside and rot from within.
“It was a sad sight to see.”
Later, and in a partnership with the city of Grove City, the Southwest Franklin County Historical Society began a long and arduous relocation and restoration project that resulted in further damage to the depot.
“It had to be cut in half,” said Jackson, who now serves as the president of the historical society. “It hurt to witness but it had to be done so it could fit underneath traffic lights as it moved from the railroad downtown to its new home in Century Village.”
With the restoration project lead John Manering calling it a “complete wreck that was held together by duct tape,” the work to rebuild the exterior began in 2018. Then came the tornado in April.
Though the weakened building was not damaged, or damaged more thoroughly, it was moved off its foundation by the fierce winds which delayed its restoration progress even more.
Eventually, and with numerous consultations with historians and dogged research of historical photos, the exterior was rebuilt to retain its look from the 1880s.
“We had to make it identical to its original in order to keep it on the registry,” said Manering.
With that portion of the project done, Manering and a small crew of city workers moved onto the interior portion in late 2019. That, too, was deemed a “complete wreck.”
Wanting to salvage as much of the original features as possible, Manering once again consulted with historians and poured through historical photos for reference.
Over the course of several months, and working through the pandemic, Manering pieced together a new interior that left members of the historical society speechless when its doors opened to them on July 1.
“I think it would be safe to say it looks better now than it probably did when it was first built in 1883,” said Keith Stenerson.
Like the original depot, the new and improved depot features detailed millwork, a stamped in paneled ceiling, separate men’s and women’s sitting areas, the station master’s quarters fashioned with repurposed original flooring and an expansive freight room. The men’s waiting area is equipped with upper shelving which will house an operational G scale model train and period-era furnishing are in the process of being purchased, donated or located.
It also has a place for a telegraph whose messages will be relayed to a neighboring store within the village.
While a thorough cleaning of the depot is required, and while the construction of a planned building-wide platform has yet to be built, Jackson said he is hopeful about the future for the once defunct train depot.
“I can see this depot being used year-round,” he said. “In the spring and summer we can host musical acts or theatrical productions and in the fall and winter we can continue with and expand our Heritage Days and Christmas festivities.”
And though the public will likely not be able to see the refurbished train depot until the latter part of the year, if not 2021, due to the novel coronavirus, Jackson believes it can once again become a hub of activity.
“I’m excited about what is to come for this depot and for the community to get to see and experience it for themselves.”