By Madeline Sewell
Clinton County Chatter staff reporter
ST. JOHNS – When trains became popular in America, new towns began to pop up along with them.
St. Johns was one of those towns.
According to Jenny McCampbell, one of the primary volunteers at the Clinton Northern Railway museum, “the whole community was started because the trains were coming in.”
“There is a lot of history tied in with the depot and the trains in general,” said McCampbell.
Which is why she believes the railway depot to be so important.
“It’s important for the history [of St. Johns],” said McCampbell. “It’s good for the people to realize how important trains were.”
It can also bring in tourists.
“There are a lot of people that love trains,” McCampbell said. “We will get big groups of people at times, over the Mint festival we had over a hundred people come though just in that weekend.”
“Now that we have the [Fred Meijer Clinton-Ionia-Shiawassee Trail] a lot more people wander in to the depot, which is nice,” said Mindy Seavey, City Clerk of St. Johns.
Virginia Zeeb, a resident of St. Johns, said, “I’ve been there, it’s very nice.”
“I think it shows the history [of St. Johns] and I think it’s beneficial for residents, everyone needs to know their history,” said Zeeb.
Dean Mcgreevy, another resident of St. Johns, said, “a lot of people access the St. Johns Rotary Park beside the depot and that helps bring people in.”
In the late 1990’s the city received a grant to get the depot restored and from 2001 to 2007 it was being used as an art gallery, said McCampbell.
“In 2007 the Clinton County Arts Council decided that they wanted something more permanent and it’s been a museum since then,” McCampbell said.
“The city said they would lease it to us for six months of a year,” said McCampbell.
The leasing goes through Seavey.
“The Arts Council leases the depot from us,” said Seavey. “They lease the building from May through October.”
“But that’s not much time to be able to enjoy it,” said McCampbell.
Which is why three years ago the city rightfully decided that it should be used as much more than a museum, said McCampbell.
“Now it’s used for all kinds of things,” said McCampbell. “A lot of graduation open houses, bridal showers, and just anything.”
Occasionally, the Arts Council holds classes in the depot, said McCampbell.
These events and classes are what help keep the depot running, which the community appreciates.
“We had about 60 kids here [on Oct. 9],” said Gary McCampbell, Jenny’s husband and another full-time volunteer at the railway.
“It was a field trip from Gateway North Elementary, they were fifth-graders,” said Jenny McCampbell.
“We’ve had a few field trips every year,” said Jenny McCampbell. “We love having them.”
Some teachers, such as Elissa Rowland, like to bring their students to the depot every year, said Jenny McCampbell.
Others, like the St. Johns High School industrial class, benefit from the depot in different ways.
“The high school industrial class helped rebuild the roof of the luggage car as a class project,” said Gary McCampbell. “Which was a huge help to us because we want to get the [railway] cars back up to date as much as they can be.”
“We’re not worried about money, we just like having it open for people,” said Gary McCampbell.