Michigan’s Historic Railroad Stations
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: Wayne State University Press
Series: Painted Turtle
Photographing a specific type of building across many styles was a project I had long wanted to tackle. Little did I know how many depots Michigan actually boasts. The Uhelski brothers, who inventoried the state’s stations in the late 1970s, counted over four hundred at the time, though that number is bound to have declined significantly since then. ...
It was the snow-heavy winter of 1997 when I first got to know Catfish, a homeless man living in Detroit’s abandoned Michigan Central Station. Photographer Donna Terek and I had been interested in profiling the daily life of a homeless person for the Detroit News, and in Catfish we found a prickly, forty-five-year-old white guy who defied most common assumptions about life on the street. ...
Ann Arbor’s striking Michigan Central Railroad Depot opened in 1887, designed by the Detroit firm Spier and Rohns, which over the next two decades would in effect become the state’s master builders of train stations. It was an early commission for the two German-born and German-trained architects, who’d joined forces only in 1884. ...
The Grand Trunk Depot, designed for Battle Creek by Detroit architects Spier and Rohns, is one of Michigan’s most exuberant, with its twin towers and a cheerful synthesis of styles ranging from Mediterranean to South Asian. The station’s first floor is faced in white granite, while everything above is done in an unusual shade of light orange brick. ...
It’s hard to imagine any building that says “Penny Lane” more persuasively than this little commuter station built in 1931. Certainly no other Michigan depot summons blue suburban skies quite as well as Birmingham’s tidy Grand Trunk depot, designed and built by Detroit contractors Walbridge Aldinger. ...
The Chicago & West Michigan Railway built Charlevoix’s handsome station in 1892, the same year as the larger Petoskey depot seventeen miles north. Those railway magnates were nobody’s fools. Just look what they created—a Shingle style cottage of immense charm right on the lake (in 1892 still Pine Lake, not yet Lake Charlevoix). ...
In terms of small-town architecture, Chelsea—west of Ann Arbor, midway to Jackson—enjoys an embarrassment of riches. The impulse to build on the part of hometown stove magnate Frank P. Glazier left Chelsea with an unusual collection of fine structures designed by Ionia architect Claire Allen, including a fieldstone, neo-classical bank; ...
Clare’s V-shaped 1887 depot—clapboard from the foundation to windowsills, with shingling above that—is a classic Queen Anne design, however simple, and is unique in appearance among Michigan stations. The round tower with conical roof and use of fish-scale shingles (as well as rectangular ones) announce it as Queen Anne, ...
Columbiaville owes its 1893 Romanesque Revival depot to one very powerful and persistent man—local lumber baron William Peter. Dissatisfied with Michigan Central service in the 1890s, Peter made the train company an offer it couldn’t refuse. He would build it a fine new station if every passenger train on the line stopped in Columbiaville. ...
The long-abandoned Michigan Central Station looms on the far west edge of Detroit’s downtown, eighteen stories of shattered glass and vanquished hope that has become perhaps the most widely recognized ruin in a town sadly known for its abandoned monuments. The $2.5 million building opened in December 1913, ...
In the 1880s and 1890s, the Michigan Central Railroad replaced most of its stations along its “main road” from Detroit to Chicago, following years of passenger complaints. In 1887, like its neighbor Grass Lake, little Dexter lucked into a remarkably handsome station built by big-name Detroit architects Spier and Rohns. ...
Durand Union Station, with its two turrets topped by witches’ hats, is one of the most recognizable stations in the country. Indeed, literature on it frequently asserts that it’s the “most-photographed” depot in the United States. If such a distinction seems like it would be hard to quantify ...
Much like Grass Lake’s resurrected station, the 1888 depot just outside Flushing’s downtown has over the years endured about as much as one building can, from architectural vandalism to catastrophic fire to years of abandonment and decay. However, against all odds, the station—in 1983 a charred hulk ...
The Gaines station is a prized landmark in this hamlet, population about 360, and little wonder. The toy-scale brick station in orange and yellow looks like a Hollywood stage set for “Small Town Depot, Late 1800s,” and couldn’t be more winning. The style is Victorian cottage, with Stick style overtones in both the gently arcing ...
With the Michigan Central Railroad pushing through Jackson County in 1842, Grass Lake Center had high hopes the tracks would go right through the budding hamlet. Instead, the railroad bought property a mile and a half west, where land was going for $1.50 an acre, not the $2 it was in town. ...
This late-Victorian depot, a good-looking Italian villa built of orange brick trimmed out in buff-yellow, sits at the junction where the Detroit & Milwaukee Railway crossed the Flint & Pere Marquette tracks. You find it at the end of a short, dusty driveway some hundred feet off South Broad Street, in the heart of Holly’s downtown. ...
The great virtue of this utilitarian, brick building is its covered portico at the north end, an open-air platform with six solid, redbrick piers holding up the flat roof. It’s a handsomely framed space to look through as well as an oddly formal footnote to an otherwise strictly functional building. ...
One of the handsomest stations in Michigan—indeed, it’s no stretch to say the nation—sits on the dusty western edge of the center of a once-great railroad town, Jackson. It was Jackson where the Michigan Central Railroad located its locomotive repair shops in the early 1870s, and in part because of that, the corporation decided in 1873 that the town deserved a glorious station, ...
Simply put, Kalamazoo—like its neighbor Jackson—won the depot lottery. This 1887 red and pink sandstone Romanesque station with its multipeaked roofline is a honey of a building—fun to look at, warm and inviting, and a striking civic monument. It’s the sharp contrast between the red and pink stone that pushes this Romanesque structure in a Victorian, not Richardsonian, direction. ...
Michigan’s most idiosyncratic depot sits in tiny Lake Odessa, population 2,206 in the last census. This remarkable Stick style confection with the Russian-inflected tower was built in 1888 by Claire Allen, a prolific Ionia architect who also designed county courthouses across western Michigan, including ones in Ionia, Jackson, and Gratiot counties. ...
The British-owned Grand Trunk Western Railway opened its new Lansing station in January 1903—a compact, orange-brick English castle in the Tudor style—to nearly rapturous praise from the city’s newspapers. “Nothing in Michigan can compare with it,” declared the Lansing State Republican on January 3, 1903, “for richness of material, completeness of detail and effective decoration.” ...
Lawton’s depot, built in 1890 by the Michigan Central Railroad, marries Richardsonian Romanesque massing and heaviness with Queen Anne detailing for an exceedingly happy union. The building’s weight, stone walls, and repeated use of arches point to the style refined by Boston’s H. H. Richardson in the late nineteenth century, when it was all the rage. ...
For a modest board-and-batten structure, this little depot is a carpenter’s love song, a memorably crafted architectural experience where you least expect it. (The minty Caribbean hue doesn’t hurt, either.) From its swooping eave supports to the formal Italianate windows with their peaked woodwork frames, this is a winningly low-key building richly evocative of its time. ...
The early 1890s were not kind to Muskegon. Michigan’s once-abundant forests had just about been depleted, and Muskegon, the “lumber capital of the world,” as it liked to call itself, was facing the end of its livelihood right in the middle of a worldwide financial panic. City fathers knew they had to diversify to survive, and statistics gave them extra incentive. ...
If Niles, a relatively small town at the time, got one of the grandest stations along the Michigan Central Railroad, it can thank its friends in Chicago. The railway built the station, one of the last passenger stops in Michigan, allegedly to impress the tens of thousands of tourists it expected to travel to the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. ...
Petoskey’s hilly, good-looking downtown sits on a high bluff overlooking Lake Michigan and Pioneer Park. The city’s 1892 Chicago & West Michigan Railway depot is tucked right at the base of that vertical rise. As such, the building—now the Little Traverse History Museum—is not visible from the center of the city, owing to the steep drop and tall trees. ...
The massive bulk of Saginaw’s ruined Potter Street Station— it stretches almost an entire city block—dominates a once-bustling street on the city’s east side. Today that urban scene could hardly be more desolate. The late-Victorian depot looks, for all the world, like some great public building in London, ...
It isn’t very often that a tornado gets to play the hero, but that’s sort of what happened in 1920 in St. Johns, an agricultural town that for decades billed itself as the “Mint Capital of America.” Townsfolk had long grown cranky on the subject of their 1869 train station. When the Detroit, Grand Haven & Milwaukee Railway went and gave nearby Ionia an admirable new depot in 1910 ...
Shepherd’s board-and-batten depot, a classic of smalltown railroad architecture, was built in the early 1890s, according to the Shepherd Area Historical Society, by the Toledo, Ann Arbor & North Michigan Railway, later the Ann Arbor Railroad. (There’s some contention over the date the station opened. ...
The original South Lyon depot burned in 1908, yet another casualty of the sparks that were such a part of the age of steam. The Grand Trunk Western Railway built this upgraded, wooden replacement in 1909. Modest though it may be, it nonetheless was a union station—the Pere Marquette also made stops here, and each company maintained a ticket window inside. ...
All too often, stations are located on a city’s outskirts and thus don’t contribute to the appearance of the city center. Suttons Bay, a resort town west of Traverse City on the Leelanau Peninsula, is lucky in this respect. Its instantly likable fieldstone depot acts as the symbolic gateway to the village for anyone driving north on M22, and similarly marks your exit when driving south. ...
If there’s a handsomer small-town station to be found in Michigan, it’s hard to know where to look. Three Oaks was the last stop before the Michigan Central tracks crossed into Indiana, and Michigan Central Railroad execs apparently wanted an attention-getter. ...
When a building is all but destroyed on two occasions and narrowly misses obliteration on a third, you can’t help but think “curse.” Calamity hovers over the 1864 structure at the heart of Ypsilanti’s Depot Town like a familiar ghost. Conflagration (1910) and collision (near miss in 1929, direct hit in 1939) weren’t the only threats. ...
It was a doomed train station that first called the modern American historic preservation movement into being. The 1963 destruction of New York’s Pennsylvania Station and its replacement by a forgettable office tower and underground depot with bus-station charm jolted the grassroots to life, driving home the panicked realization that if one of the nation’s best-loved buildings could go, then nothing was safe. ...
Appendix: Historic Designation