Riding the Preservation Rails

By: Conrad Neuf , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Old House Musings, In The News, Old House History

I’m excited about a new trend in preservation I’ve been reading about recently–the restoration of old train stations and depots across the country. I don’t know if it can really be considered a new trend, as historic societies and preservation organizations have been working to save the stations and depots that have played such an important part in our county’s history for many years. I think the movement might just be getting more publicity now, but that’s fine, too.

I’m excited personally because I like trains; they are one of my favorite ways to travel. It wasn’t that long ago that railroads ruled in this country; if you needed to get from one place to another, it usually involved taking a train. Every city had at least one station such as Grand Central Station and Pennsylvania Station in New York, and small towns were often identified by their train depots.

Old Train Depots Are Often near Old Houses

I’m also excited because the railroad depot was normally located in the heart of a small town, in a place that was convenient for those arriving and departing by train. The depot was close to the homes and businesses that defined the town and was often used as a place for the community to gather. Unfortunately times have changed and what was once the thriving center of a town is very often now an area full of old houses in need of restoration and businesses that shut their doors years ago.

The Preservation Journey Starts with the First Step

Train depots that have been restored or are undergoing restoration may be able to start a preservation movement in some of those towns. I mentioned in an earlier post that I live in an old railroad town where many of the old houses that once belonged to railroad employees have been restored. Quite a few of those restorations are because the town has been building on its heritage as an old railroad town and making the railroad depot a popular attraction. Buildings that have been empty for many years are now the homes of a bakery, a coffee shop, and an ice cream parlor.

Sometimes all it takes is for one key historic building to undergo a restoration and before long an entire section of a town or city has been transformed by preservation enthusiasts. I am watching it happen in my town and it has happened in places like El Paso, Texas, Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, and Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Railroads played an important part in making this country what it is today, and who knows–maybe the preservation of their stations and depots can help lead the way in saving some of our history.