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Volunteers eager to restore western Iowa railroad depot

Railroad tracks
Posted at 2:51 PM, Jul 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-17 15:51:47-04

CORRECTIONVILLE, Iowa (AP)  — For years, a major piece of Correctionville’s railroad history was right under everyone’s noses, but hardly anyone knew it.

Except for the donkeys.

Years ago, after the Illinois Central Railroad ceased operating the branch line that once passed through town, the freight depot was moved from Fifth and Birch streets to a nearby property, where the owners utilized it as a donkey barn. The building stood in plain sight, but far enough off the street that it was hard to tell it was anything but a barn. The Correctionville sign on the side faded over time, making it harder to recognize the building’s history from a distance.

“I knew there was a building back there. I didn’t know the significance of it,” said Joel Volkert, who’s become very familiar with the building in the past year.

Last July, the building’s owners, Chris and Karen Weinreich, stood before the Correctionville City Council to donate the old depot to the city so it could be preserved.

Sonya Kostan, who was then on the council and just happens to be the treasurer of the Rural Woodbury County Historical Society, couldn’t believe the luck of having the building dropped in the city’s lap.

“It was a historical building. They didn’t want to see destroyed,” Kostan told the Sioux City Journal.

The historical society was on board immediately.

Members had the chance to save the only surviving structure from the two railroads that once ran through town -- the Chicago & North Western, which ran from east to west, and the Illinois Central, which opened a 59-mile branch running north and south from Cherokee to Onawa, passing through Correctionville, in 1888.

The depot, built in 1944 from lumber salvaged from a previous two-story Victorian-style depot, was classified by Illinois Central as a Type B depot, for freight only and consisting of a large freight room with a smaller office and waiting area. As the railroad shut down lines, the depots disappeared, sold for use as garages and, in this case, a donkey barn. There might not be more than five depots of this style remaining.

“Very few of these type Bs exist,” Kostan said, and none of them have been restored as a museum like the historical society plans to do with the Correctionville depot.

Despite years of donkeys chewing on the studs and manure rotting wood along the bottom, the depot is structurally sound.

“It’s in rough shape, but it has good bones. The donkeys did us no value when they turned the studs into toothpicks,” said Volkert, who’s overseeing the restoration.

In May, about a dozen volunteers using donated equipment and materials relocated the depot about three blocks to city property south of the fire station near Third and Cedar streets, about a block south from where it initially stood on land that’s now home to a grain elevator.

A $14,800 Missouri River Historical Development grant paid for a cement pad and a new roof. Kostan said the historical society has sufficient funds to restore the exterior, but will need to raise approximately $50,000 for the interior, which still has much of its original yellow paint, though faded and peeling in places. She hopes the museum could be completed in two years, depending on the generosity of donors and the success of grant applications.

Volkert said he plans to save as much of the original building as possible and rebuild the rest. The exterior Correctionville sign will be preserved in its current weathered condition and displayed inside. Replica signs, along with flags and signal lights, will be installed outside.

The historical society is on the lookout for artifacts to put in the new museum. A collection of items from the depot is housed at the Grand Meadow Heritage Center in rural Washta, and Kostan said it’s hoped the collection could be loaned to the depot for display.

Younger residents might be surprised to learn Correctionville once was a busy railroad town. But Illinois Central shut down its line sometime in the 1970s, and the Chicago & North Western followed later. The tracks are gone.

Only the diamond track where the two lines crossed remains, preserved and displayed outside the Correctionville Museum. Volkert said he’d like to see the diamond placed outside the depot along with a short set of tracks to give residents and visitors a taste of Correctionville’s railroad history. He’s also searching for an old boxcar frame that could be retrofitted and rebuilt as an 1880s-era boxcar to sit outside the museum.

“Saving the past for the kids of the future is what we need to do,” Volkert said. “In a throwaway society, it’s nice to see things stay.”

That past nearly was forgotten once already.

You’d have to be stubborn as a mule to resist a second chance to save it.

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