Clare train depot to be preserved as focus for history, community

"It's just another whistle stop, if you don’t wait till we reach the top," Just Another Whistle Stop, by The Band.

"Lay down fellas, take a little nap, 17 miles to the Cumberland Gap," Cumberland Gap, by the late Woody Guthrie.

The City of Clare is embarking on a journey that would make Woody Guthrie proud. They’re throwing all of their efforts into preserving a historic train depot--Clare Union Depot--which in the process will help to preserve and continue a long history of rail travel (hobos and all) in this portion of central Michigan.

The city purchased the depot from the former Tuscola & Saginaw Bay Railroad Company, now the Great Lakes Central Railroad Company of Owosso, for $10,000. A local business person donated the same amount back to the city to recoup its costs--the start of a community effort to support the project.

Now it has to be moved from its current location, which is a liability for the company due to the fact they continue to move goods along the rails, according to Ken Hibl, Clare city manager.

Community leaders and citizens are all for the project, which will bring to life the history of Clare as a whistle stop for train traffic, stretching back to 1887, when the depot was originally constructed (it was destroyed by fire in 1894 and rebuilt in 1895 by the Pere Marquette & Ann Arbor railroad service).

The cost to relocate and renovate the historic depot is no chump change: $750,000 to be exact. City planners have a plan, however, to raise the cash, and in fact are close to raising the $150,000 needed just to move the building from its current location. They’ve sent grant applications to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the DTE Foundation, hoping to raise a total of $250,000. They’re also hoping in-kind donations of labor and materials will further offset the high price tag.

Plans are to move the depot a few blocks away from its current location to the trailhead for the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail, a multi-use trail for hikers, bikers,and others. Here it will also become home to the Clare Chamber of Commerce, the Clare County Visitor's Bureau, a museum of train and local history, and also home of the Clare County Arts Council.

The Clare Union Depot was used for passenger service on the Ann Arbor Line until 1950 and later on the Pere Marquette Line, which after the '50s became the C & O for a few more years. The depot was partitioned for each line. In its final years of active service, this unique, Queen Anne-style building was used by the Tuscola & Saginaw Bay Railroad Company, mostly as an administration and maintenance office, says Hibl.

A planning committee of about 40 people took up the charge of securing the location for the depot and has managed to acquire a suitable site, thanks in large part to the Mid-Michigan Community Action Agency. The MMCAA, which the city has worked with in the past, happened to own two city lots in the downtown area, close to the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail, which had been extended into Clare. When the MMCAA heard the Clare Union Depot needed a home, they donated their two city lots to Clare. Their generosity didn’t stop there; the MMCAA also helped the city secure two more lots adjacent to the original two, which will come in handy for parking for the depot and trailhead.

The city is hopeful the depot can move to its new location by this summer. Those interested can join the continuing fund raising efforts by purchasing engraved brick pavers, buttons, railroad caps, and a book, Images of America, Clare 1865-1940 by Robert Knapp, as well as  limited edition prints of “Homecoming” by Bay City artist Terry Dickinson, which depicts the Clare Union Depot as it appeared in the 1940s. In the print you can see Steam Locomotive #28 chugging into the Clare Union Depot, returning a WWII soldier, who is being greeted by his tearful young daughter.

Neil Moran is a copywriter living in Sault Ste. Marie. Visit his website at www.neilmoran.com.
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