Bremen Depot has new life

A local labor of love — and sometimes agony — has reached its completion.
After years of physical, emotional and financial effort, the Bremen Depot relocation and restoration project, spearheaded by Historic Bremen, is complete.
“We have finished it and we’re now moving stuff in,” Historic Bremen coordinator R.T. Henke said. “The plan is to make it a welcome center and a railroad history museum, and also a history center for Bremen.”
The ride to completion has been long and bumpy.
“I think a lot of people are surprised this actually happened,” Henke said. “It’s been a long time. I have about a foot tall of paperwork on this project. You wouldn’t believe it. It’s been painful, but it was the right thing to do to save it. “
Historic Bremen was formed in 2002 as a historic society and preservation group. The depot, which originally sat on the south side of Center St. by the train tracks, was its first salvaging effort. The group applied for and received a federal grant, which turned it into an Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) project. The grant was a 20-80, in which 20 percent of funding came locally and 80 percent came from governmental sources. Historic Bremen handled the details, but the town was required to act on its behalf by sending funds to INDOT.
The state put the entire project up for bid, and they came in significantly higher than the funds available. To trim the costs, the project was split into two phases.
Phase 1 was to move the depot to the new site at 810 Douglas Rd. In the fall of 2008, workers cut away at the depot’s 18-inch-thick foundation to free the structure. It was then jacked up and placed on 72 wheels for transport, but winter set in before the move could take place, and it was moved the following June.
“I kept changing the sign of when we were going to move it, because the date just kept changing,” Henke said. “It took us two days to move it a mile. It was very slow-going.”
To complete Phase 1, the depot was placed on a new foundation, porches were added and a track base was laid so that a train track could be put down in the future. It was finished just over a year ago.
While dealing with INDOT had its ups and downs, negotiating with the CSX railroad company, which owned the longtime vacant depot, was downright brutal.
“CSX had no interest in doing anything, so we forced them to agree to give us the depot,” Henke said. “The only way they’d sell it to us was to move it.
“If they wanted to do away with it, they wouldn’t tell you. You’d have just seen them out there one day bulldozing it.”
To jump into the final restoration of Phase 2, Henke was encouraged to apply for INDOT’s portion of federal stimulus money. The funds were approved, and Historic Bremen began the final push in December of last year. Among the last modifications were a new roof, plumbing and heating.
“It went very smoothly,” Henke said. “We came in $1,400 less than the original quoted price, which was really good.”
On May 1, 2011, the depot will be rededicated.
“We will have a reenactment of the original dedication,” Henke said. “It was dedicated on Oct. 22, 1929, and seven days later, the stock market crashed. It was probably the last depot dedicated in Indiana before the Great Depression.”
The depot was built by local contractor S.G. Lehr for B & O Railroad, which came through Marshall County in 1874.
The depot, which also served as a Western Union and freight office, shut down in the 1970s. Now, it will live again.
“It has been closed so long that a lot of people have never been inside it,” Henke said. “It’s been a long process getting here, but we think people will enjoy it. The depot had a lot to do with the overall life of Bremen.”
The next major undertaking might be the installation of rails in front of the depot.
“We have the rails, but need about a hundred crossties and people who’d be interested in helping us,” Henke said.
The rails aren’t exactly in-hand.
“They are buried in a driveway of an industrial area, so we’ll have to dig those up and then get the spikes and drive them,” Henke said. “I’ve heard some people say they want to do it to say they did it, just like the old days, so we’ll see.”
For more information on the Bremen Depot project or to volunteer time or materials, call 574-546-4340.