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Relocated Charles City depot shown in open house as renovation fundraising kicks into high gear

Relocated Charles City depot shown in open house as renovation fundraising kicks into high gear
(From left) Justin Nelson, Brian Nelson and Chris Krebill, directors and officers with the American Passenger Train History Museum board, were on hand Saturday afternoon for an open house at the former Milwaukee Road depot that was moved to its new location last fall and will be the entrance to the passenger train museum. Press photo by Bob Steenson
By Bob Steenson, [email protected]

People got a chance to get inside the Milwaukee Road railroad depot over the weekend – the first time it’s been opened to the public since being moved to its new location last fall.

A fully renovated depot is planned to become the entry point to the American Passenger Train History Museum, which will feature exhibits on the history of the passenger train inside the building, and restored passenger rail cars and other cars on tracks on the outside.

Moving the depot from its former location a couple of blocks north along Canadian Pacific tracks came with a price tag of almost $400,000, including digging and pouring a new basement foundation, concrete and concrete block work around the base and new steps.

That money came through a public fundraising effort that included significant individual gifts. Canadian Pacific donated the building, as well as what it would have cost to demolish it.

The relocation price is about half of what the next step will cost, said Brian Nelson, a museum board director who was helping show people through the building and answer questions Saturday afternoon at the open house.

“Right now we’re in the process of raising money through public donations as well as grants and things like that so we can begin the renovations, which will include all new electrical, plumbing, windows, refinishing the interior,” Nelson said.

“We’re building in some contingencies, but still looking at about $700,000 to $800,000,” Nelson said.

The depot is also anticipated to play a role as the trailhead to the city’s Charley Western Recreational Trail, with public restrooms for trail users.

Chris Krebill, the museum board secretary, said the current architectural drawings show the trail restrooms located in one of the original old baggage rooms.

“The plan is to have them isolated from the rest of the building but accessible from the outside. There will be a fire suppression system to make sure if anything happens there it will stay isolated there,” Krebill said.

He said the original depot restrooms across the hall from what was the ticket area will be renovated and made handicapped accessible to be used by patrons of the museum.

Krebill said the depot fits into what will be a one-of-a-kind train museum.

“All the other museums are a random smattering of locomotives and freight cars, and maybe some coaches, where this is really going to focus on showing the differences between all these different types of passenger trains,” he said.

“The train station has always been a gateway for passenger trains and the people and the community, and that’s what it’s going to be for the museum,” he said. “It’s going to be the gateway for seeing the train cars, and we’ll have a movie in the old baggage area that’s going to be our theater, where people can sit and watch if they’d like to, and from there just exit out to the trains,” he said.

The plan is to have three different sets of refurbished passenger train cars available at any one time for people to be able to go through and see how different passenger trains were designed to draw in passengers from their particular markets.

“They can get in whatever train they’d like to get in first and walk through it from the sleeping cars to the lounges, the dining cars and the coaches, and really see what the one train was like and how those trains looked different,” Krebill said.

Justin Nelson, the museum board treasurer, said the depot came through the relocation in great condition.

“We did a look at the building before and the building after, and there were some cracks that existed before we moved it, and none of those cracks got any wider. Functionally there was no real damage,” Nelson said.

Krebill said the quality of the building is due to the city leaders at the time it was built, who insisted on a masonry building instead of the wooden structure that the Milwaukee Road administration at the time wanted to build.

“The craftsmanship of the time that went into this depot helped hold it together. It’s kind of a testament to how much the city leaders back then valued having a good quality entrance to the city,” he said.

Krebill said the anticipation is that when the museum is open it will attract visitors from a wide area.

“This museum will draw people from around the country. Even this volunteer force (the board of directors) is from basically everywhere around Iowa,” he said. “Me and Justin are on basically opposite ends of the state. We have a volunteer from Spencer, and we have some volunteers who are out of the Twin Cities. It’s really already got such a draw.”

Justin Nelson said, “It’s pulling people from all over the region because our focus is passenger trains and not just anything that rolls on the rail.”

The main focus now is on fundraising for the restoration.

Last October the project was awarded a $150,000 Iowa Great Places Grant from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

“We’ve working on cultivating other grant opportunities,” Nelson said. “The goal, in a perfect world, is to have our grand opening when the bike trail opens, and I think tentatively that’s 2024. The trail is part of the puzzle.”

He said a restoration of this size is feasible to do in two years, if the money is available.

“Two years isn’t unrealistic, if we had the money in hand, which obviously we don’t,” he said. “Again that’s the goal in a perfect world.”

Bob Moen, the president of the American Passenger Train History Museum (APTHM) said they had raised about $158,000 so far toward the renovation phase of the project.

The group has applied for a Main Street Iowa grant that could potentially award $100,000, and the organization also plans to work with the city to apply for a Destination Iowa Grant, which would come from a $100 million state investment in tourism improvement using federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Donations to the depot renovation fund can be made online at the organization’s website,, in person at First Security Bank for the APTHM fund, or by sending a check to APTHM, Box 683, Charles City IA 50616.

Moen asked anyone making a donation in person to please leave their name and address so their gift can be acknowledged.

Relocated Charles City depot shown in open house as renovation fundraising kicks into high gear
The American Passenger Train History Museum held an open house Saturday at the relocated Milwaukee Road depot, which is planned to be renovated to be the entryway to the museum and its passenger train car exhibits. Press photo by Bob Steenson

Relocated Charles City depot shown in open house as renovation fundraising kicks into high gear

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