Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

McGregor Co.

By Will DeMarco
Gazette Reporter 

Historic Pullman train depot to undergo conversion


August 2, 2018 | View PDF

The Northern Pacific Train depot in Pullman, built in 1887, was recently purchased by the Whitman County Historical Society with hopes to convert the property into a heritage center focusing on the historical significance of railroads to the area.

The Northern Pacific train depot in Pullman is getting a makeover – one that will tell the story of the town and its co-evolution with the railroads that spanned more than a century.

With hopes to turn the depot into a heritage center, the Whitman County Historical Society purchased the site in March from Meghan Antoni with help from a $300,000 anonymous donation. Antoni acquired the site from her father, the late Dan Antoni, who ran two businesses out of the property as owner for 27 years.

Originally built in 1887, the depot was vital to Pullman's growth. The railroad helped the region's economy boom by providing quick, cost-effective transport of agricultural goods across the country. WSU students routinely rode the "Cougar Special" train to Pullman from across the state before cars became more popular following WWII.

"The trains provided the original impetus for both the college and the town," explained Linda Hackbarth, WCHS board member and steering committee co-chair.

The heritage center aims to celebrate the history of the railways by focusing on its contributions to the region in three main areas: Providing cross-state travel to residents, accelerating WSU's prominence as a university and exporting wheat and other locally-grown products around the world.

Hackbarth made it a point not to call the planned heritage center a "museum," saying the latter bears the connotation of an adult-friendly place tourists visit once and never return. On the contrary, she explained, the heritage center will feature interactive displays and activities such as model trains for youngsters and a telegrapher's station where kids can wire messages to each other.

Hackbarth, a retired Pullman teacher, said WCHS plans to change out the center's exhibits on a regular basis so local residents will return periodically.

While much is still up in the air, WCHS is working with WSU's Rural Communities Design Initiative to devise a vision for the heritage center and hopes to set in stone a plan by the end of the year.

Renovation of the site is no small task. In addition to replacing many of the walls, windows, floors, and lighting, the group is grappling with how to get rid of three train cars that are infested with black mold and blocking the street-side entrance. According to Hackbarth, WCHS is searching for businesses willing to pay for removal of the train cars. So far, Hackbarth says their best option is a professional mover who offered to take the train cars on a truck to Winona.

The Inland Northwest Rail Museum is also slated to move the locomotive from the depot to Reardan, which would leave the to-be-renovated caboose and a passenger car remaining at the site. The current occupants – Puffin Glass Studios and Assurance Driving School – may be asked to leave when renovations begin.

Hackbarth said the group does not yet know the cost of the project, as much of the project details are still to be determined, but estimates a cost of several million. WCHS aims to fund the effort through public fundraising and grant money, Hackbarth stated.

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