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The 100th anniversary of the B & O Train Depot was celebrated Saturday, July 8 in Barnesville. The history of the building, the foresight of citizens in their efforts to save and restore it, and those involved over the years were celebrated. The Barnesville Depot is one of the last remaining train stations on the Baltimore & Ohio's Pittsburgh-Columbus main line in Belmont County. Constructed between 1916 and 1917, it was part of an upgrade program by the company for passenger traffic.
"We are here to celebrate 100 years of this building behind us as part of the Barnesville community and as more than part of the Barnesville community; really it was part of the lifeblood of America at the time. The railroads were the chief form of transportation and commerce in the United States," said master of ceremonies Bruce Yarnall. "We have been very blessed in Barnesville. The railroad tracks have been silent here since 1983 and we've been blessed since 1991 to have ownership of the building and to see it transform and see this whole area, the old rail yard area, transformed into what it is."
The building's sweeping tile roof and shaped dormers are characteristics of the style used by B & O railroad designers during that era. This Spanish Mission-influenced brick building served as the "front door" for Barnesville and its satellite communities.The Central Ohio Railroad reached Barnesville in 1852, bringing a major boost to the growth and development of the community and leading to its growth from 900 residents to 4,000 and bringing glass, metal, wood and farm produce industries.
Yarnall said he became involved in the effort to obtain and restore the Depot after learning of its planned closure in 1983. Although the last passenger train passed through the community in 1961, the building continued to serve as home base for a rail work crew until the rails were removed by 1986. He submitted a letter to the editor to The Barnesville Enterprise and soon discovered that like-minded citizens, including Bill and Jean Davies who owned and operated the Enterprise, were already forming a committee to save the building. The Barnesville Historic Preservation Association, and later the Barnesville Area Development Council, began attempts to secure and save the building.
After various attempts to persuade CSX Transportation, owner of the building, to gift it to the village failed, a price of $110,000 for the building and rail yard was presented and committee members had six months to raise it. Yarnall said then mayor Tom Michelli and village council members including the late Ernie Howell who was one of the last employees of the Depot, stepped up to help save the building. Yarnall said council members at that time, Charles Bunting (father of current mayor Dale Bunting) and his sister, Virginia Waggle, Jim Hughes and Tim McKelvey (current council member) agreed that if the money could be raised to purchase the building from CSX, they would take ownership of the building and maintain it. "So basically that would be the start of this relationship that continues as a public/private/community relationship that continues to this day," Yarnall said, noting that the village's involvement in the acquisition resulted in the creation of Railroad Street.
He said funds were raised to make the $55,000 payment to the village. "That $55,000 was non-refundable, so we were on the hook," Yarnall said.
By the end of June 1991, $117,000 had been raised. Yarnall said that it was that same Barnesville High School Alumni Banquet weekend in June 1991 that the building was opened to the public for the first time. He said the late Irene Cowgill served as hostess.
Yarnall said that the building was in bad shape and then committee member, the late Paul Livezey asked him, "Bruce, are you sure we want this building?" "I took a deep breath, and I looked back at Paul and I said 'yes' we want this building," Yarnall recalled. He passed around a photo of the state of the building when it was acquired.
Monthly cleanup days were held during that time involving the senior citizens center members and local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and committee members also began the work to clean up the inside of the building. The annual yard sale was started to raise funds and later a farmers market, for which a pavilion was built and is held weekly during the summer, was started. A grant for restoration was also received during that time.
At the celebration, the BHS Class of 2000 was recognized because its members began raising money as third graders and planted trees at the depot during their senior year.
Rev. Ted Buehl of the First United Methodist Church gave the invocation. The Pledge of Allegiance was led by Kathy Johnson, Barnesville Girl Scout Service Unit administrator and former leader of the troop that helped to raise awareness and funds for the restoration of the Depot. The National Anthem was played by the Barnesville Area Community Alumni Band. Aaron Wildman, President of the Barnesville Deport Committee welcomed those attending.
"As president of the Depot Committee and on behalf of them, I would like to say thank you to all of you for coming out today to help us celebrate the 100th anniversary of the building that has so lovingly been bought, paid for and restored and still here for us now and for generations to come for us to enjoy and appreciate," Wildman said.
Dave Adair, railroad historian and president of the Guernsey County Historical Society helped raise funds by providing living history presentations and was instrumental in helping to obtain the caboose which was donated by Tony Puskarich of Cadiz and restored by Walter Tickhill.
"It was August 1985, I was in the structure behind me and I heard a train coming down the tracks. It was a very sad train, it was the last train to come through Barnesville," Adair said. "It traveled about five miles per hour, as it passed by in a deafening roar from the machinery which ripped up the track and loaded it onto machinery that was here, I felt bad. So many memories go through your mind when you see something like that lost forever."
He continued, "In 1854 the tracks came through here. State trains ran until 1957 and passed by here, and as you just heard, passenger trains stopped coming through here in 1961. In 1983, the last revenue train to pass through the Barnesville station was the Barnum and Bailey Circus train enroute from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati. Two years later, the line was up for abandonment and it was abandoned."
"When that train passed by, I took photos, like Bruce and other people. Then it was through the tunnel and gone. In the eerie, dead silence that followed, I thought 'What's going to happen to this station that I'm in?' I thought for sure, these people here can't do anything about this. It's lost," he said. "I was wrong. I sure thank you for inviting me here."
Adair said that of the 197 stations or depots on that line, only nine are left and those other eight have been "greatly altered". "You're so lucky because this station is still in its original condition, for the most part. It's something to be proud of and is going to be here for generations to come."
Yarnall recognized former and current members of the Depot Committee and presented "Helper Engine" awards to the Wildman and Cheffy families and Tom Lynch, Les Tickhil, and John Schradel for whom the depot farmer's market pavilion is named. Yarnall himself was also recognized by Jean Davies and Judy Gibson for his involvement in saving the Depot.
Aaron Wildman, whose mother, Nancy was the first president of the committee and whose father Dal worked there and has done much restoration there, said he became involved in the committee as an adult after locating his driving school business there in 2010.
"It was pretty touching because I could feel her smiling," he said, noting that his aunt now owns the business, continuing the family involvement in the Depot that began with his grandfather who was a telegraph operator there.
Dal is the last living person to have worked there.
"So, the circle kind of came around to me and it's time for me to pick up the gavel and start pitching in. Over the last several years we have done a lot of work here and we still have a lot of work left to do."