Guest View: Milwaukee Road Depot must be moved or demolished

By Bob Moen, President, The American Passenger Train History Museum

I read with interest Jeff Bergstrom’s letter to the editor on Sept. 26. I wish it were as simple as his suggestion to leave the depot in place rather than move it. It sure would be a lot less expensive and would be my preference.

Jeff is correct that early on many depots were sold in place by the railroads, but in recent years their legal departments have insisted that they be removed from their property.  Canadian Pacific has made it very clear that selling the depot in place is not an option. They will donate the building to a non-profit organization such as ours, but it must be moved off their property.

Their reasoning is simple. If the depot is sold in place and someday a train derails into the building with 50 people in it, the railroad has a $50-100 million dollar liability on its hands. No depot on the property, no liability. Affidavits releasing the railroad from liability are no longer enough.

That said, the railroad has given us until next spring/early summer to gather the donations to move the depot. Our organization, The American Passenger Train History Museum, is offering to provide a home (land) and a purpose for the depot as part of our new museum.

The depot could be a jumping-off point for visitors to the museum before they tour the four 1940’s/1950’s famous trains our group has been assembling and working to restore right here in Charles City. This will allow parents and grandparents an opportunity to show our children what passenger train travel was like in the mid-20th century when it was at its height.

We plan to move the depot 1½ blocks south to 11th Street and Grand Avenue, right next to the old Charles City & Western office building that now houses Ackerson Insurance. We have researched the cost of moving the building, excavation and a new foundation and have found that the cost will be in a range around $300,000.

Just moving the building involves a full crew on site for about eight weeks. The movers have reported that the building is in very good structural condition, with a new roof, but will need to replace the basics: HVAC, electrical and plumbing.

We have found that there are almost no grants for moving, but many grants for restoration once it is moved. We anticipate that this museum will bring 5,000-7,000 people a year to Charles City, which would be a boost in tourism and the spending that comes with it.

This is really the community’s decision. We have an opportunity to save an important piece of Charles City history. The depot was once the front entrance to town and a hub of activity. But we are in need of donations to make this happen.

Our group does not have the financial resources to take this on, but we are willing to manage the project. We got involved when members of the community called us, asking if we could incorporate the depot into our plans. All donations would be tax deductible since our museum is a non-profit Iowa corporation, with 501c3 tax status with the IRS.

Donations can be made in person at First Security Bank to the “Save the depot fund” or by mail made out to our museum, Box 683, Charles City, IA 50616. Feel free to contact me with any questions.

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