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A piece of history renewed

May 11, 2011

Melvere “Mel” Sheley the depot’s station agent stands before the original chalkboard that kept track of the trains’ comings and goings. Photo by Angel Perkins

BREMEN — A piece of Bremen history has been renewed and Saturday, it was unveiled for the public to tour during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the B & O Depot.
The building was originally dedicated Oct. 22, 1929 on North Center Street and rededicated May 1 at its permanent home at 810 Douglas Road.
A group of roughly 80 community members and town and historical society representatives gathered with the Bremen High School band and members of the American Legion Post #191 and VFW Post #8972 for the ceremony. While the weather remained sunny for the event, it began with, of all things, the whistle and grumblings of a passing train.
“In 2000 we finished Jane’s Park,” explained project initiator Linda Clevenger. “I was looking for something to do and I found out the railroad was going to destroy it (the depot) at some point, and I wondered if it couldn’t be restored.” That mindset started a snowball effect that gelled members of the community, Historic Bremen Inc., and the Marshall County Community Foundation to get on board with saving the building. “I appreciate history — especially Bremen history — and I can’t bear see it destroyed,” Clevenger added. “I really wanted to see it turned into something positive for the community.” She and Rhonda McIntyre met in December of 2001 to discuss options and the rest … is, well … history.
Anthony Wagner (His-torical Bremen Inc. member and legal advisor) served as emcee of the April 30 event, introducing each speaker and noted persons integral in making the move and restoration possible. “There has been a lot of hard work by a number of people, many of them volunteers, for this to all come together,” he said. “R.T. (Henke) was involved in the paperwork and pushed to keep it alive.”
Speakers for the event included Rick Hardy, Pastor Tom Dean of the First United Church of Christ, Linda Clevenger, Jennifer Maddox of the Marshall County Community Foundation (which assisted in granting funds toward the project), and featured other local celebrities and heads such as Bill Davis of the Bremen Chamber of Commerce; Rich Martin, Town of Bremen Operations Manager; Kurt Garner, project architect; and Henke of Historic Bremen Inc.
Though the Marshall County Community Foun-dation assisted with funding the project, Maddox said, “It wasn’t just the foundation with this grant but the volunteers in the community that made this possible.” Funds were also obtained through INDOT’s Transportation Enhancement Grant, a loan from Indiana Landmarks (which has been repaid), INDOT’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Funds, Historic Bremen Inc. fundraisers, and local, individual community members’ and area business contributors for a total of nearly $800,000.
Henke and his wife Virginia were also acknowledged with a gift card for their effort in making the depot restoration come to fruition. He reminded those present that while the project is complete and he is “really glad this is over,” more funds are needed to keep the building operational. Also, 160 feet of track is desired to be laid in front of the depot and volunteers are needed to help with the work.
“In 1874, here in Bremen, the only way to travel was by horse and wagon,” Henke said. “The train depot opened up Bremen to the rest of the world.”
He said that in those days, a train ride to Chicago cost $1.50 per person.
Though inside the depot some of the details have been preserved (such as the board noting trains coming and going, and the almost exact preservation of the men’s restroom, the original office chair and office safe) some area historical artifacts were donated and added to accentuate the feel and authenticity of the era. Films were made by a local graphics company of photographs from the depot’s past, that serve several facets — to quiet the light beaming in the lower half of a couple of windows and to protect the delicate artifacts housed in glass cases inside the building — as well as to entertain those visiting.
One local “artifact” featured at the historical depot’s first public unveiling was Melvere “Mel” Sheley, who was the station agent from February of 1965 until the closing of the building in 1987. “I handled anything that dealt with inbound and outbound freight,” he explained. Of the historical day Saturday, he said, “I didn’t think this was possible; I was all for the move but I was disappointed with how long it took the railroad to come around. I really didn’t know if I would see it happen.”
He said he was pleased with the overall results of the building’s appearance, inside and out and including the life-sized cutout of himself “talking” to visitors via a button on the office ticket window ledge.
“They kept it the way it was as much as possible,” Sheley added. “There are some exceptions of course. One thing that didn’t get done was, on the corner of the building was a Western Union sign.” He said it had been ordered but hadn’t come in in time for the ceremony. Of his many stories he can tell about the depot and its daily operations he noted three major train wrecks, one of which took place his second day on the job, and all of which no one was hurt as a result.
Though the Bremen B & O Depot will not be open “regular” hours, it will be available for school and organization tours, and BHS alumni meetings and other community groups have scheduled appointments to meet there.

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