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Lincoln Train Depot Celebrates 10 Years of Restored History

Photo credit to Art Kniep

The folks in Lincoln have been working on the railroad (or at any rate, on the railroad depot) a lot longer than “all the livelong day.” 

In fact, as of this summer, they’ve been at it for a decade now.

The Detroit, Bay City and Alpena Railroad first came to Lincoln (then known as West Harrisville) and its new depot in 1886. The line operated until January 1, 1929 when it was discontinued, the tracks removed and the depot sold into private ownership. 

During that era, the majority of depots along the line were of similar wooden construction with just two – Harrisville and Alpena – made of cut stone.  Today, the Friends of the Lincoln Depot believe theirs may be the only remaining wooden depot in the state.

The building was purchased by the Lincoln Downtown Development Group in 1996 and the group requested ideas from the community on how to use the building or the land. Two major forces behind the depot preservation project were Richard “Dick” Gillies Sr. of Lincoln and the late George Byelich. 

Byelich began his efforts to restore the depot while Alcona County’s Michigan State University Extension Agent, and continued to work on the project beyond his retirement in 2001.

In February of 1998, an article in the Alcona County Review described the group of volunteers who had cleared the area of debris and secured the building as entering the next phase of the project with “no money, no treasury and no formal organization.”  Despite that, they had plans to begin work on the exterior of the building that spring.  During that year, the group affiliated with the Alcona Historical Society.

Two happy accidents made major inroads on the exterior project. The first was the discovery of basswood siding, manufactured in the 1950s at the Ferris Lumber Yard in Lincoln in the same design as the depot’s original siding.  The 1950s siding had been sold to a local farmer, who had stored it in his barn.  The depot group was able to purchase it from his estate. The depot’s original front door was found in the basement of the building.  A replica of the original two-foot in diameter round window above the door was created and donated by Dale Sharboneau of Lincoln and his son-in-law, Ken DeCock.

The second happy accident occurred when Gillies found a shingle maker who would be demonstrating his antique shingle mill at the Upper Michigan State Fair in Escanaba, Mich.  A group of 10 friends of the depot traveled 300 miles to the fair to create replicas of the original shingles, providing a demonstration for fairgoers and creating 2,400 square feet of shingles from four cords of white cedar logs for the depot.  

Volunteers replaced the aging windows with new ones of the same style and dimensions.

In addition, the group removed a porch added to the building in the 1940s. Under the coordination of contractor Dale Rondeau of Hubbard Lake, the original freight room, doors and dock were rebuilt and a deck added around the entire building. Exploring the interior, friends found the original wainscoting still existed behind modern wallboard and – inside a small closet beneath a stairway – the original ticket window.  

As the project progressed, the group turned what they described as a “real mess” into a remarkable replica of the original depot. Norma Williams, with husband Bill is one of the original friends, is proud to point to a photo of her grandfather, who worked at the original depot.  But she’s equally proud to tell about removing the wallboard from the depot’s front room. “Seven women,” she remembered “and only one was less than 70 – tore off the board with crow bars and hammers and we even hauled it out to the dumpster.” 

In the spring of 2002, the depot was designated as a Michigan Historical Site and received a state marker, along with an Alcona County historical marker. On July 6, 2002 the markers were unveiled and the depot – consisting of its front “waiting room,” gift shop and office area and the freight room were unveiled.  

Local and former residents made the site even more authentic through the donation of hundreds of railroad artifacts, ranging from crossing lights to photos, tools, a model railroad and even telegraph keys.  

Photo credit to Art Kniep

In 2003, the Straits Corporation, owners of the Detroit and Mackinaw Railway (D&M), donated its last available caboose car to the group.  Built in 1925, the caboose was towed to Greenbush by the railroad company, and then loaded onto a flatbed truck by Harrisville resident Dave Kaiser for the balance of the trip to Lincoln.

In order to place the caboose in the depot’s side yard, tracks had to first be laid.  Once that was completed, Friend of the Depot Lloyd Cubalo said, the wheels were placed on the track and then the caboose was placed on the wheels. Once again, a bevy of volunteers were on hand to clean, repair and restore the car to its original condition.

In 2008, Harold Frye of Mayville, Mich. donated a switch engine from the D&M Railroad to the group. The small red engine, weighing about eight tons, spent most of its life moving cars around the Tawas rail yard. Frye, whose father worked for the D&M, chose Lincoln over other groups interested in the engine because, he said at the time, “In Lincoln, everyone was gung ho…I wanted it to come to Lincoln because it is the only place that resembles a D&M museum.”

One of the depot’s most recent additions is a plaque affixed to a boulder beneath its flagpole near the front door.   Donated by Cubalo, it thanks Dick Gillies Sr. for his continued effort on the depot project.  

Photo credit to Art Kniep

Sadly, two of its biggest supporters – Byelich and Don Sawyer, past president emeritus of the Alcona Historical Society, aren’t here to see the museum and historical site that stands where the “real mess” they worked to save was a decade ago.  But then, who knows, perhaps they are.  After all, there are those who say Lincoln doesn’t have a railroad.  They overlook the fact that, after 10 years of hard work and enormous volunteer effort, it certainly has a railroad depot.

The Lincoln Train Depot is open the first Monday of July through September: 
10 a.m. - 2 p.m. – Monday; 1-3 p.m. – Tuesday; 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. – Wednesday; 2 - 4 p.m. – Thursday; and 6 - 8 p.m. – Friday.  It is closed on Saturday and Sunday.

(This article was written by Kathryn Kniep for the Alcona County Review. It was published on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009.)

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