On Saturday afternoon, about fifty people gathered at the Depot Museum in Alden to witness the unveiling of the marker officially designating the depot as a State of Michigan Historical Site. State Representatives Wayne Schmidt representing Ed Surovell, President of the Michigan Historical Commission and Kevin Elsenheimer along with Helena Township Supervisor, Penny Wagner were on hand for the dedication ceremony. Paul Delange President of the Helena Township Historical Society acknowledged all who contributed to the cost of the marker including the Alden Volunteers, Alden Lumber, Alden State Bank, Helena Township Historical Society and especially Anne Nicholson, Lucy Gerlach and Linda Torres for their fundraising efforts.
Once known as ”the finest depot on the line north of Grand Rapids.” It was built in 1907 to replace one that despite efforts of a bucket brigade burned to the ground in 1906. The Pere Marquette Train Depot was the center of activity in Alden. With trains arriving daily a favorite evening pastime in Alden was to go down to the depot and watch as passengers headed to one of the areas many summer camps disembarked from the “Resort Special”. More ticket were sold with a destination of Alden than any other spot along the line.
The depot was closed in the early sixties. It would have been just an abandoned building waiting to be vandalized and it might not have survived except for a group of six Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad workers who worked out an agreement with the railroad to lease the building and use it as a vacation retreat. They named the place “Chessie’s Pause” after the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad logo which features a sleeping cat named Chessie. Each worker’s family spent two weeks during the summer at the retreat and while no major repairs were made they kept the structure from falling into a state of total disrepair. After about fifteen years the railroad no longer renewed the lease and the depot sat vacant for several years.
In 1986 the railroad agreed to sell the depot to Helena Township for two hundred thousand dollars. Alfred Hoadley was township supervisor at the time and he wrote and applied for a grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund with the purpose of using the depot as a bathhouse. Once the grant was approved, Helena Township had to fulfill a grant requirement that ten percent “seed money” be provided by the township. The township sold the building once used as the township hall and library (now the 45th. Parallel) for twenty thousand dollars to raise the money.
Two additional grants, one from the DNR for thirty thousand dollars and another for the same amount from the Traverse City Rotary provided the working capital for work to begin on the depot. As restoration began a set of the depot’s original plans were found in the rafters and this discovery enabled the building to be restored to its original design.
As restoration on the building proceeded it became evident just how much of a treasure the depot was. In October of 1988 a meeting was held and Dorothy Walter explained the work involved in operating a museum. She emphasized the fact that the group must be “totally committed to such a project.” With everyone in agreement a committee was formed and bylaws for the Helena Township Historical Society were drafted.
The depot with all its charm of yesteryear, stands like a shining jewel on the banks of Torch Lake and today, people gather at the depot just as they did back then. Only now they step back in time as they tour the museum during June and July. Eat strawberries and cream under the portico on Father’s Day during Alden’s Strawberry Festival. Meander through a maze of quilts during TAAG’s Quilt Show in early August or attend the Annual Model Train Show that follows, when the walls of the depot which once trembled with the passing of steam engines and giant locomotives now echo with sounds made by miniature trains chugging their way along miniature tracks.
Over one hundred years later one thing is certain, residents and visitors alike will still agree that Alden’s Pere Marquette Train Depot is “The Finest Depot on the Line”.