By Pat Maurer
With the money raised to cover the costs, the 119-year-old Clare Railroad Depot will be moving to a new home this spring. Barring any unforeseen setbacks, the relocation of the historic old depot will be on April 15 when the building will be moved approximately 900 feet east to its new home on Fourth Street across from the Clare Castle.
In December, Rail-Trail Committee member Bob Meister of Design Builders said, “As you know we have been working on raising the funds for several years and the progress has been slow and tedious but with major grants from the Gerstacker Foundation and Dow Foundation, the dream has now become a reality.”
He continued, “Our community does not realize what it involves to move the structure.” He said the estimated total cost for the project is $138,251.”
Efforts to save the depot began in 2005.
A recent $50,000 grant from the Herbert and Grace Dow Foundation, plus another $1,000 from the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe meant that enough has now been raised to reach that first goal, said Anna Pryor of the MidMichigan Community Action Agency. The committee has now raised a total of $118,014.35. That total doesn’t include considerable in-kind contributions.
MMCAA partnered with the City in developing the Clare Castle, a senior housing development and senior center and that partnership continues in the planning for the development of the railroad-depot plans.
The City has also partnered with the Clare Downtown Development Authority, the Clare City Planning Commission, the Clare Chamber of Commerce, the Clare County Visitors’ Bureau, the Clare County Arts Council, the Clare City Parks and Recreation Department, the Pere-Marquette District Library, the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Clare Area Rail-Trail Committee.
The Clare Railroad Depot Steering Committee (CRDSC) was formed in 2010 and has 54 members.
Moving the depot will be a massive project. According to Committee member Marty Johnson, “Work for the move is scheduled to begin in mid-March. Prep work at the new location includes digging a full basement and pouring a concrete floor. The depot must also be readied for the move. This work includes removal of the interior structure to the studs; disconnecting utilities; cutting the building free of its present concrete foundation (that was poured after the building was constructed); raising the building and putting a floor system under it; and putting large steel cross beams every few feet under the new floor to support the building as it is moved.”
He continued, “The building is of Queen Anne style with two separate wings and is the only one of its kind remaining in Michigan and one of few left in the nation. The depot was the focal point for arrivals and departures until the advent of the automobile. It was the coming of the railroad that allowed access to the interior of the state for lumberjacks, farmers, and businessmen to set up shop and make it their home, creating cities, towns and villages including the City of Clare. Since 2005, the Clare Railroad Depot Committee has sought to move the building because of access, liability and safety issues associated with its current location on active tracks.”
Committee member and Clare City Manager Ken Hibl wrote, “The depot, is presently located at the juncture (and in between) two active railroad lines – a north-south state-owned railroad line and the remnants of a privately owned railroad line (formerly the Pere-Marquette Line). The depot was privately owned, in rapidly declining condition, and was scheduled for demolition. Due to its historic significance to the City and the region, the City purchased and reroofed the building to preserve it and ensure its continued structural integrity. However, a condition of the sale was that the City is required to relocate the building due to liability associated with its present location and its lack of public access, thus rendering the building essentially unusable. In December, 2011, after a lengthy search for a suitable site, the City approved the purchase of the old Carquest lot, and MidMichigan Community Action Agency donated the two adjoining lots as the future home for the depot. Then fundraising for the massive project began in earnest. The Fourth Street property is within the City’s downtown district [just across Fourth Street from the City water tower], and next to the privately-owned railroad line.”
“Relocation of the building to this site will facilitate the reintegration of the depot building into the community’s prime infrastructure and will enable the community to once again utilize the depot as a major community asset and focal point,” Hibl said.
Johnson said, “This move is just the first step in what is still a multi-year project that will require at least an additional 500k in funding before the building is completely rehabilitated to become a community resource.”
The Clare Union Depot has an interesting history in the area. It was constructed in 1887; destroyed by a fire in 1894; and rebuilt in 1895 by the Pere Marquette and Ann Arbor Railroads. It was used for passenger service on the Ann Arbor line until 1850 and by the Pere Marquette Line (then a part of the C&O Line) for a few more years and finally as a maintenance and administrative office by the T&SB.
Hibl outlined the planned future uses for the building. “This completed project will serve multiple community users and purposes, to include serving as a public trail-head (restrooms, parking area, & information center) for the Pere-Marquette Rail Trail (US Bike Route 20), which currently courses an east-west track through central Michigan from Midland to Reed City; serving as the City’s Chamber of Commerce Office and Clare County Visitor’s Bureau Office; home to the Clare County Arts Council; and home to a community railroad museum. As a trail head, visitor’s bureau, chamber of commerce office, and information center, the site will serve literally thousands of local and regional rail-trail users and visitors annually by providing a central location for regional community and local attraction information as well as a central welcome center for new residents and businesses of Clare. As the primary studios and offices of the Clare County Arts Council, the site will serve as an art education and learning center, as well as an art market, thereby serving the cultural needs of local artists, residents, and visitors. The museum will preserve and display local railroad and logging history and heritage of the region.”
One more unique event will take place this spring while the depot is still at its original location.
With the move to the new site set for mid-April, the present depot site will probably only see one more train pull into the old station on Fifth Street. A special steam locomotive being restored by the Steam Railroad Institute of Owasso will bring up to 530 visitors to Clare March 15 during the 2014 Irish Festival.
Robert Teed, owner of Railyard Productions of Bath, said, “The Pere Marquette 1225, or “North Pole Express” will probably be the last train leaving the station at its Fifth Street location. The excursion will also be the maiden voyage for this unique steam engine, which was featured in the movie “The Polar Express.” The PM 1225 steam locomotive was built in 1941.
Teed has rented the famous engine for the special one-day trip. He said, “We expect to leave Owosso at 9:00 a.m. and arrive in Clare around 11:30 a.m. We will have a three hour layover in Clare so plan to depart around 3:00 p.m.”
He continued, “Many of our passengers will be ‘Railfans’ and they will be looking for photo opportunities.” He said already about half of the seats on the excursion train are sold, with two special groups coming to Clare: the Lionel Collectors Club and the Chicago based railroad enthusiasts, the 20th Century Club.
Tickets are available by calling 517-648-0628 or at their website: railyardproductions.com.
After the Irish Festival, all of Clare County will be anxiously awaiting the depot’s big moving day.
Johnson said, “The move is an exciting first step in the rehabilitation of the depot and evidence that the efforts of all those who have supported the project thus far have not been in vain.” He continued, “Usually trains move while train depots remain stationary. We invite everyone to come to Clare in April to experience an opportunity to see a railroad depot in motion. After all, an opportunity like this comes around only once every 119 years!”
He stressed that the April 15 date is tentative, and added, “Please watch our Facebook page and website http://www.claredepot.com/ for further updates.
Even the new site may be a special one for the depot. Clare City Clerk Diane Lyon said, “A request has made to the Saginaw-Chippewa Indian Tribe in Mt. Pleasant asking them to come and bless our new location.” She said she is waiting for a response to the request, but hopefully that could be done in March before the big move.
The total costs for completing the work and developing the plans for the depot were estimated at $750,000 including volunteer assistance and donations for materials and labor. Fundraising continues to accomplish that goal through donations, grants and the sale of depot-related items. Some of the items include brick pavers, buttons, railroad caps, patches and recent sales of the book “Images of America, Clare 1865-1940″ by author Professor Robert Knapp and by the sale of signed and numbered prints of an original art piece titled “Homecoming” by Bay City artist Terry Dickinson.
Individuals interested in supporting the project or those who wish to volunteer can stop at Clare City Hall or MidMichigan Community Action Agency or go to www.mmcaa.org/depot or www.claredepot.com to make a donation, memorial pledge or to purchase fundraising items.