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Tuesday August 24, 2010 Edition
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A Railroad Icon Finds A Benefactor And A New Lease On Life


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Tuesday August 24, 2010

By Larry Johnson

    About one year ago, Steve & Marcia Dupoise bought the old train station and depot next door to his business—County Tire--- and a new chapter was begun for a local railroad icon, and a second chance to refresh our memories of a more romantic period in our transportation history.

     Steve & Marcia bought the building for several ostensible reasons: it was an adjacent building with a shared parking lot and a chance to better control the parking situation for both County Tire and whatever business will eventually occupy the old train station. But Steve is also very interested in the history of the newly purchased building and what it will mean to restore it to Historical Society specifications.  Restoration will be aided by USDA and Efficiency Vermont grants, primarily in the form of tax credits  

     All zoning permits have been approved and restoration has already started. This will involve removal of some additions to the property, built during its commercial period, and substructure stabilization of other parts of the buildings. Drain pipes are being dug into the ground around the property; interior rooms are being stripped of their “modern” superficiality and restored to a more pristine state in keeping with their original functions.

     The entire exterior of the building will be refurbished and painted. The slate roof will be upgraded, and the old station sign mounted on the roof will be moved lower in order to better expose the marvelous windows at the top of the building. These windows are rounded at the top and buttressed out at the bottom, giving them a classical, unique perspective not often seen in residential or commercial buildings of any period.

     Upstairs in the depot is what Steve refers to as the “Tower Room,” probably used as the Station Master’s office during the building’s original incarnation. This room will eventually become some sort of commercial office, without a doubt. Steve’s eventual plans for the rest of the building are still undecided, but the property definitely lends itself to a low-traffic business. It has the interior space and location for a variety of enterprises, and in fact already houses a computer service business.

     No discussion of Middlebury’s railroad history would be complete without referring to that wonderful little book written by Glenn M. Andres titled A Walking History of Middlebury. According to Andres the first freight train rolled into town on September 1, 1849, and the first passenger train entered the scene a few weeks later, on September 19th.

     The first Middlebury to Boston run happened in December of that same year.

     What I didn’t know, until I read A Walking History of Middlebury, was that the first depot/station in Middlebury was not on Seymour Street. It was, in fact, located on Depot Street, a spur street, now an extended driveway off Water Street, on the south side of the village, along the back way to the high school.

     In 1871 the freight depot burned and a new depot was built on its present site. The passenger station followed suit in 1889 and was rebuilt on the west side of the tracks, adjacent to the freight depot in 1891. It wasn’t until 1912 that the station was moved to the east side of the tracks, in order to accommodate the new underpass.

      My first memory of the railway station goes back to the 1940s, when railroad travel was an important mode of moving from one place to another. My family often took the train to Rutland or Burlington, for one reason or another, and I remember how exciting it was to race through the backyards of Vermont on our way to a citified adventure. That, unfortunately, came to an abrupt end around 1950 when there was a union strike and the railroad took this opportunity to ditch the less profitable passenger service in favor of freight hauling. The Interstate Highway Bill, during the Eisenhower Administration, and the post-war growth of the automobile industry gave the kiss of death to universal rail travel in this country, maybe forever.

     This, to me, makes it even more gratifying that Steve Dupoise has taken it upon himself to save an important remnant of railroad history in our town, while at the same time creating a viable commercial enterprise.

 


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