By Jack Nissen
Clinton County Chatter
Nuzzled between the Briggs Public Library and grain silos is a railway depot. Erected in 1857, blown down by a tornado, then rebuilt in 1921, the building stands as one of the more historic pieces of the city of St. Johns.
Since being restored in 2001, it now stands as a museum meant to commemorate the railroad that first brought life to the city.
“It really stands as a testament to just how old this city really is,” said Jenny McCampbell, one of the curators and president of the Clinton County Art Council. “Being the head of the council, my husband and I were handed the responsibility of the museum by default.”
Restoration has expanded to the railway itself being turned into a bike path as well as four train cars that were obtained by the council over the past 10 years.
Money for the museum came in the form of a city grant, said Jenny McCampbell. “We’ve received help from all sorts of community members.“
What Gary McCampbell, Jenny McCampbell’s husband, has noticed are that many of the community members assisting in the restoration process have little to know experience with trains.
“There’s no technical knowledge of trains,” said Gary McCampbell. “This has been as been as much a research process as it has been a restoration process.”
Currently lined with sawhorses, torn-up brick sidewalks and pieces of the train cars that have been removed, there is still a lot of work to be done.
“While we’ve made noticeable differences in the fixing of the train cars, with the re-paneling of the roof as well as integration of the lighting fixtures, there is still so much to be done,” said Gary McCampbell. “We hope to not just restore the train cars, but to build a bike path where the railway used to lay.”
Any supplies that isn’t being reused from the rail cars themselves has to be found by other means.
“We really try to use as much of the train as we can,” said Gary McCampbell. “For any of the supplies that just can’t be salvaged from the cars, we get from local suppliers.”
The acquisition of the train cars has been difficult just on its own for the art council. Found from multiple locations of the state, it wasn’t so much the cost of the railcar, rather just being able to move it down to Clinton County.
“Railcars are like old pianos,” said Jenny McCampbell. “If you can move it, you can have it. One guy sold us two of our four train cars for $10 with the promise we restore it.”
The caboose, which was being used as a flower shop before being bought, had rotting wood ling an entire side of the car.
“We had to go to a local guy and cut the wood ourselves,” said Gary McCampbell. “You should have seen this thing before we fixed it up, it was in much worse shape.”
Jenny McCampbell estimates they receive close to 120 visitors a year. This is attributed to how little the museum is open.
“We are opened between the months of May and September on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.,” said Jenny McCampbell. “As well upon request, anyone is welcome to schedule an appointment for a private tour.”
Accompanied with several artifacts on display, a gift shop as well as a model train set is available to visitors. For private tours, Gary and Jenny McCampbell can be reached at their home phone number of (989)-224-6134.
For more information on contact information, check out the website here.