SOMETIMES IN THE EVENING, when the traffic lessens on my busy street, I hear the train, horn blasting, wheels rumbling from the tracks just blocks away.
There was a time, decades ago, when railroads connected communities, carrying passengers and freight, grain, coal… Bringing mail and goods like lumber and much more. But those days are long gone, those versatile trains all but a memory for many rural Minnesota communities.
Sure, trains still run, but along main routes and without the diverse economic importance of decades past.
With the railroad’s demise in the late 1960s and early 1970s, also came the abandonment of train depots. Many of those hubs of commerce were torn down or left to decay. But some remain. In Faribault, a former depot houses The Depot Bar & Grill, among my favorite local dining spots. Another historic depot serves as a business center.
And in the nearby small town of Kenyon, the once busy Chicago Great Western Railroad depot serves as a gathering spot at Depot Park. You can rent the building—with amenities of refrigerator, stove, sink, restroom, 29 chairs and eight tables—for $30 weekdays or for $40 on a Saturday or Sunday.
On a recent day trip to Aspelund Peony Gardens & Winery, Randy and I stopped first at Kenyon’s Depot Park for a picnic lunch. It’s a lovely spot, centered by that depot, a playground and a swimming pool.
After finishing my turkey sandwich, grapes and strawberries, I grabbed my camera and walked over for a closer look at the old depot, built around 1885. I peered inside the windows, studied the roof-line, read the signage. The railroad once held an important place in Kenyon and the surrounding area by providing freight and passenger service. Immigrants arrived here by train. Farmers shipped milk, awaited the arrival of seed and tools and farm implements. And mail.
When rail service shut down here in the late 1960s or early 70s (I read conflicting information online), a local house mover bought the depot. And in 1974, he, upon approval of the city, moved the depot to the park.
But there’s one more interesting piece of history about this building, a story shared in a 2012 letter to The Kenyon Leader written by former Mayor John L. Cole. According to Cole, the Kenyon High School Class of 1975 was tasked with painting the depot after “getting into trouble” during a class trip to Grandview Lodge in Brainerd. Now he doesn’t explain what that “trouble” may have been. But Cole thanks the class, emphasizing that something good came out of the bad.
As a 1974 high school graduate (from a school nowhere near Kenyon), I can only guess. We were on the tail end of the Vietnam War, a bit vocal and determined and rebellious. My class got into trouble for choosing “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” as our class song. Not exactly fitting for a high school graduation ceremony. I expect had we gone on a trip like the teens from Kenyon, we, too, would have gotten into trouble.
I digress. But history has a way of connecting us. Through stories. Through places. Like depots that hold the history of a community and its people.
© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Lovely shots 🙂 I always enjoy your posts.
However being an electrician of 50+ years that ‘vintage light’ is not wired to standards of the National Fire Protection Agency’s National Electrical Code which all of Minnesota’s 87 counties must adhere to. Sorry but I am liable If I don’t report it 😦
I appreciate your concern about that vintage light. I don’t know what the protocol is regarding reporting. But perhaps you can connect with the city of Kenyon first and share your concerns. I expect the city is unaware and this wiring was done decades ago. Still, it should be corrected for obvious safety reasons if it doesn’t meet code. Thank you for considering my suggestion.
Randy Edal Rice County Electrical Inspector will check into it once again I apologize
No need to apologize. You saw a legitimate potential safety problem and did something about it. Thank you!
I love when historic buildings remain and are repurposed. That poor street lamp needs a good globe cleaning. I have enjoyed train travel since I was a teenager. Last year was one of those bucket list trips to Alaska and we rode the train from the main city to the cruise port city – oh so much fun and get to see so much of the landscape and local wildlife (i.e. moose, belugas, etc.). We also did a historic train expedition in one of the port cities. I want to get on a train and watch the world go by out the windows. Happy Weekend – Enjoy 🙂
What a trip. Or should I say journey.
I remember taking a train from Perham, Minnesota to Saint Paul when I was six years old. The greatest joy of that trip was waiting at a small station like the one pictured above and being the first one to spot the lone headlight in the distance.
What a strong visual. Thank you for sharing that memory.
Two years ago went to Durango, Colorado and took the Narrow Gauge steam engine trip up to Silverton. Had an open car. What a Colorado Rocky Mountain “high”.
An open car, wow. Thanks for sharing your train story, Brad.
Thanks for this. I can recall visiting my relatives in Redwood County when I was a youngster back in the 1950s and 1960s. I remember that there was a branch line of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad in Seaforth, the nearest town. That line was used to bring trains to the grain elevator where my grandfather and uncles brought their wheat and corn. I know you have posted photos of that grain elevator, now long shut down, as I’m sure the branch line is also.
Thank you for sharing your memories of Redwood County. The grain elevator in Seaforth is now owned by my Uncle Milan. And you’re right, I have photographed it and published pix here.
Fun post. I like old depots and the nostalgia of trains.
Thank you, Valerie.
Typically those stamps on the bricks are from the manufacturer. (Kenyon is in Goodhue County)
Tedd, the stamps are on wood, not brick, but maybe that doesn’t matter. Yup, I know Kenyon is in Goodhue County. I expect you’re referencing the comment by one of my readers.
My husband and I went to Alaska and also took the Alaska Railroad and totally enjoyed it! We met a couple from New Jersey that we ended up spending a lot of time with on the rest of the trip. Lots of room to stretch your legs and get up and walk around. That’s besides the fact the scenery is spectacular!
I burst out laughing when I read about the “naughty” Kenyon class of 75! The class of 77 in Nicollet probably did some similar things at Grand View Lodge on their class trip. We didn’t have a depot to paint, but it unfortunately ended overnight class trips for many years. My class included!!
I had another good laugh at Dead Skunks in the middle of the road!! We should have thought of that!! Thanks for the chuckles!
Always happy to make people laugh. Thanks for sharing your stories, Brenda. It’s good to hear from you again.