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Alumni weekend offers special centennial depot program, open houses

By BRUCE YARNALL Published: June 28, 2017 12:00 AM
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Shamrock grads and local citizens will have a plenty to occupy their time during the upcoming Alumni Weekend. A Barnesville Depot Centennial program and "open house" at the nearby Watt Center for History and the Arts will take place Saturday, July 8.

The Barnesville Depot Committee invites the public to take part in a special Centennial Commemoration Program for the Barnesville Depot that afternoon. The formal program will get underway at 1 p.m. at the John Schradel Pavilion located on the depot grounds.

Taking part in the program will be Mayor Dale Bunting, Aaron Wildman who is current head of the Depot Committee, noted railroad historian Dave Adair of Cambridge, the Barnesville Community Band, Barnesville Girl Scout troops, and local historian Bruce Yarnall.

Recognition and Certificates of Appreciation will be presented to several who played a critical role in saving the depot and developing the depot area into the attractive community asset it is today.

The station, caboose and Roby Cigar factory will also be open for self-guided tours.

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Visitors may also visit and tour the Watt Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Located in the former offices of Watt Car and Wheel, local history displays, including a new addition profiling Barnesville-born inventor Elisha Gray who lost a legal patent case against Alexander Graham Bell for the invention of the telephone. The Gray display was created by the late Jack English of Tacoma who was instrumental in the induction of Gray into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007. Admission to the Watt Center is free.

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This year marks the centennial of the completion of the last surviving B & O station along the "Pittsburgh-Columbus main line" between Wheeling and Cambridge. The new Barnesville station was part of a company upgrade program at the cusp of this nation's entry into World War I. During the war, rail passenger service peaked just as the automobile was gaining dominance.

The railroad came through James Barnes' town in 1852, some 25 years after he predicted the same. The arrival of the Central Ohio that ran from Columbus to the Ohio River at Bellaire was celebrated and heralded at that time.

By the turn of the 20th century, thanks largely to the railroad, Barnesville had quadrupled in size sporting a large business district, several avenues of large Victorian mansions and a number of industrial concerns employing over 700 men.

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Barnesville's rail connection was also a boost for the surrounding farmers. The community was known as the "Strawberry Capital of the World" when area farmers shipped as many as 1,000 bushels of the red berries a day by refrigerated cars to Chicago, Washington/Baltimore and other cities.

The Spanish Mission- style passenger station served the public as Barnesville's "front door" for 44 years. Residents, including many children, were present when the last passenger train passed through town June 30, 1961.

The old frame freight depot next door was removed the following year while the surviving station continued to serve as a freight depot and work crew base until rails were removed in 1986.

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It is said "as one chapter ends, another one begins." With the rails removed, local residents formed the Barnesville Historic Preservation Association. That group, and later the Barnesville Area Development Council, spearheaded a fundraising campaign to raise $110,000, the purchase price set by CSX Corporation, successor to the B & O.

Girl Scouts made posters and third graders washed dishes, swept porches and did errands for parents, grandparents and neighbors to raise funds for the depot.

When the sales deadline arrived in June 1991, $117,000 was in hand, collected over a six-month period securing a future for not only the station, but also the rail yard, roadbed through the community, and the nearby tunnel, a local landmark since its completion in 1870.

Thousands of volunteer hours went into rehabilitating the depot before a federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Grant (ISTEA) was secured to fully restore the station. That grant was made possible by the building's l985 listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Other features added to the depot grounds have come about thanks to donations and old fashioned "sweat equity". They include:

The Caboose This piece of B & O rolling stock was donated by Tony Puskarich of Cadiz to the depot development project in 1993. In poor condition, Walter Tickhill spearheaded restoration efforts that returned the old caboose to its former glory.

Depot Landscaping Over the years beautification projects have added much to the Depot grounds including Tickhill Gardens, trees and honeysuckle made possible thanks to volunteer labor including Master Gardeners and generous donations from the Cheffy family, Boy Scouts and the BHS Class of 2000.

Pavilion and Farmers Market On the site of the former freight station stands the John Schradel Pavilion, a feature since 1999. Funds for the structure came from a grant from the Ohio Department of Agriculture thanks to efforts by State Senator Jim Carnes and funds collected by Irene Cowgill. Finally, the cost for the overhead doors was covered by Eddy Floyd. In addition to housing the weekly farmers market, the pavilion may be rented for special events.

Roby Cigar Museum This building housed a small cigar factory in nearby Belmont from 1900 to 1943. The building and an accompanying hogshead in which raw tobacco was shipped by rail to warehouses in Baltimore celebrate the role of tobacco production and cigar making in eastern Ohio. The factory was donated by the Thompson family of Belmont and the hogshead was a gift of the Brown family of Bethesda-Morristown.

Tunnel Hopefully next up will be improvements to the historic train tunnel. Earlier this year the village applied for an Alternative Funds Grant through the Ohio Department of Transportation to rehabilitate the B & O tunnel and further trail development with the Barnesville Rails-to-Trails organization.

Since its purchase and development, the depot and grounds have depended on dedication, hard work and a good relationship between village government, depot committee and the Barnesville community. And as a result of this collaboration, this iconic landmark continues to serve Barnesville in its unique and special way.

Join the Centennial Celebration at the Barnesville Depot Pavilion on Saturday, July 8. The program gets underway at 1 p.m.


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