Handing over history: Town takes ownership of former depot building



The town of Brownstown recently assumed ownership of a 105-year-old building that once served the rail freight and even the passenger needs of the community.

The deed to the former Baltimore & Ohio Southwestern Railroad freight depot in Ewing had been in the hands of Brownstown/Ewing Main Street, but that organization had always planned to give it to the town once a restoration project was completed.

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Darlene Butt, who lives in Ewing, spearheaded that project to restore the depot built by the B&O railroad in 1912-13. She signed the deed over to the town Monday.

The town continues to explore potential uses for the depot. Sally Lawson, president of the town council, said the board would like to hear the public’s ideas for use of the depot.

“We’re still working on it and taking ideas,” she said.

She added the town already is considering a couple of options they are not ready to release.

“We’d like any creative idea and people’s thoughts on what should go down there,” Lawson said.

The restoration project, many years in the works, involved many financial contributions and the persistence of many in the community, Butt said.

Knowing the depot is in the hands of the town after so much work is a good feeling, Butt said.

“It’s exciting, and it’s a thrill,” she said. “A lot of people have done this and made it to what you see today. So many people donated so many hours to this project, it’s unreal.”

Butt said she could name many of the volunteers involved in the renovation work but decided against it for fear she would leave one out.

Brownstown/Ewing Main Street has conducted several concerts and events to help raise funds for the depot over the years, and it also has benefited from being a Jackson County United Way Day of Caring project several times.

“We had a lot of help,” Butt said.

She said she hopes the town will use the structure as a gathering place for local residents that will honor the Ewing community’s history.

“I hope the public will get a good use out of it,” she said. “We all want to keep this alive so the next generation would have a shot at seeing what it used to be.”

Construction of the original depot began in October 1912 and was completed late in the winter of 1913. At that time, the depot, located in the crosstie yard across the tracks from the B&O passenger station, had a slate roof and is otherwise substantially built. The freight depot was constructed to separate the freight from passengers.

In its heyday, B&O employed several people at the freight depot and passenger station. The passenger station was built in 1893, remodeled in 1913 to provide a women’s waiting room and razed in the summer of 1953.

The B&O agent’s office was moved to the freight depot at that time, but no passenger traffic was to be allowed at Brownstown after that time except for special excursions and other special trips, according to the Aug. 1, 1953, addition of The Tribune.

In 2016, as part of the restoration project, a replica of a small structure with windows on all four sides for a signal operator was built. Butt said that came about because the late Herschel Forgey remembered the structure and its inside.

A sidewalk also was installed to connect the shed with the depot.

Some of the structure of the freight station is original, Butt said.

There is one main room in the depot, and it features wooden flooring and siding. It has a newer bracing system for the roof with one original beam that stretches the length of the ceiling. A long table made of wood from the original floor sits in the middle of the depot.

The roof was in such poor condition, volunteers had to construct a new one because insurance costs would have been much higher, Butt said.

“It didn’t have a frame like this,” she said of the new ceiling.

Butt said some of the most difficult parts of getting the depot was dealing with CSX, the railroad company that owned it at the time.

“It seemed like it was always so hard to get an answer,” she said. “It seemed once you could talk to someone, they wouldn’t know anything to tell you, and it seemed it took forever to get anywhere.”

But persistence paid off, and the railroad company gave it to the town of Brownstown, which in turn gave it to Brownstown/Ewing Main Street after that organization was established in 2010-11.

Once Brownstown/Ewing Main Street received the depot, it immediately ran into a roadblock when it was told the depot was too close to the railroad tracks and had to be moved. The depot was 17 feet from the tracks and needed to be moved at least 40 feet away from the railroad right of way for safety purposes.

It was moved 80 feet away in July 2013 at a cost of $13,800, thanks to donations from individuals and businesses.

Butt purchased the property for that move.

“They accepted my offer, and I had not even talked to Jim about it,” she said of her husband, who passed away in February 2014.

But Jim Butt didn’t mind because of his affinity for the charming little community that surrounds the depot, she said.

“My husband had such a love for Ewing,” she said.

He began the restoration project sometime in the 1990s, she said, and it was something he was passionate about.

The couple were motivated by their love of Ewing, but perhaps also because of the fond memories Jim had of the train. Jim boarded a passenger train in Ewing bound for Washington, D.C., and New York City in the early 1960s for his senior class trip.

“He boarded the train right here,” Darlene said, pointing out the window of the newly restored depot.

After seeing the depot in its prior condition to its restoration, Darlene said she is satisfied with how it turned out.

“I think it looks great in here,” she said.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

What: Baltimore & Ohio Southwestern Railroad freight depot

When: Built October 1912 to February 1913

Where: Ewing

Why: To separate freight from passengers


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