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Time travel: Historic depot named to National Register of Historic Places

Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

The formerly abandoned Center Point Depot and Substation today houses the Center Point Depot Museum along the Cedar Valley Nature Trail in Linn County. The two-story, Mission-style structure has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. It served the electric railway line between Cedar Rapids and Waterloo from 1914 to 1973. Passenger service ended in 1956, but freight service continued.
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs The formerly abandoned Center Point Depot and Substation today houses the Center Point Depot Museum along the Cedar Valley Nature Trail in Linn County. The two-story, Mission-style structure has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. It served the electric railway line between Cedar Rapids and Waterloo from 1914 to 1973. Passenger service ended in 1956, but freight service continued.
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Interurban trains no longer stop at the Center Point Depot, but interurban trail users do, as they make their way from Cedar Rapids to Waterloo.

The 1914 two-story, Mission-style structure, in use through 1973, sat empty for a decade. Three renovations — from 1983-84, 1998-99 and 2013 — have given new life to this structure. Once a way station along the WCF&N (Waterloo, Cedar Falls & Northern) railroad, it now serves as a way station for picnics and restroom breaks along the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, developed over the abandoned railroad right-of-way in the early 1980s.

The depot has been deemed such an important snapshot in time that on March 7, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The structure also is a testament to cooperation. The Linn County Conservation Board owns and maintains the recreation trail and the depot building, and the Center Point Historical Society operates the depot museum. The society holds its meetings there the last Thursday of the month, and plans special events like a June 3 Log Cabin Festival, a sort of “house warming” for that structure which was moved to the depot site.

“It’s exciting for Center Point to be such good stewards of this building,” said Maura Pilcher, Linn County Historic Preservation Commission chair.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” said Sharon Hannen, a lifelong resident of Center Point who served as the historical society’s first president in 1975 and is now its secretary.

“The Linn County Conservation Commission already knew they wanted to renovate the depot and wanted to put a railroad museum in it. They’re not museum people, and our historical society had been sitting uptown for 20-some years in one of the lovely old buildings on Main Street,” Hannen said. “But it was built in the 1870s, so it was in too bad of shape for us, at that point, to be able to take care of.”

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The historical society helped raise money and obtain grants to turn the south part of the depot into the museum, and now leases the space and pays its utilities.

“We see the other groups that are struggling to maintain these wonderful old buildings, but it’s a stretch for a small town. Center Point isn’t that small anymore, but it’s a stretch in a town (where) a lot of the population growth is not invested in (its) history.”

That makes preservation even more vital, said Hannen, whose own history with the town stretches back to her grandparents.

“If you look at any of these small towns, there are still some good buildings left, but nobody with the resources to preserve them, so the Main Streets are going away. ... Most of these building just fall down. How is anybody going to know what anything looked like to their grandparents, if these things all fall down? Besides, they’re just beautiful.

“Of course, some people think that money would be better spent on feeding people,” Hannen noted. “We always have that dichotomy: Should we spend it on feeding people, when we still have hungry people and homeless people in Cedar Rapids, or do you devote some to historic preservation? All you have to do is think about the Union Depot in Cedar Rapids and the consciouslessness of tearing it down and building that parking ramp. That’s all you need to know about the significance of historic preservation. It would be a great asset for downtown (Cedar Rapids) if we still had it.”

The Center Point Depot is the last of the Linn County-owned buildings to be put on the National Register, joining the Abbe Creek School west of Mount Vernon and the Mott building, the Witwer building and the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids, Pilcher noted. It’s a recognition as well as an incentive to protect as much of the original material as possible if groups are seeking federal funding for renovations.

If you go

• What: Center Point Depot Museum

• Where: 700 Washington St., Center Point, next to the Cedar Valley Nature Trail

• Hours: 2 to 4 p.m. Sundays, beginning of May to end of September

• Admission: Free

• Trail users: Can access a picnic area, restrooms and water

• Log Cabin Festival: 1 to 4 p.m. June 3 at the depot museum site; old-fashioned activities, spinning demonstrations, butter churning, strolling fiddler; free admission

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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