How do you become a community Superhero? My test is to create something meaningful in your community that betters the lives that surround you. That is exactly what Chester residents did when they made history by preserving history...more specifically the derelict Chester Depot that had so faithfully served passengers from 1915 to the mid 1950’s. And unlike our fictional friends pictured here, these heroes are real.
The Chester Erie Depot, was the second depot to be built on this site. The first depot was built in 1841. The construction of the depot was arranged by Richard Delafield and Robert Goelet. In the postcard of the newly constructed 1915 depot to the left, a corner of the previous depot is still visible on the very right. The opening of the depot was attended by several prominent individuals, including Theodore Roosevelt. Ridership of the rail began to decline after World War II, and this stop was eliminated, however, passenger trains still used the rail as 1980’s. Finally, after being used as storage, the building was locked up and left by the rail company as a relic of a bygone era. The building was badly damaged from years of neglect and abuse, and had been used as a makeshift residence by homeless people and an unofficial clubhouse for teenagers. Carried forward by the momentum of fond memories of this depot, the Chester Historical Society, decided to find a way to restore this depot. The first obstacle that had to be cleared was to reach an agreement with the Rail Company to lease the depot on a long term basis. This would allow them access and right to restore the building for use as the Chester Historical Society’s local historical museum. The Historical Society began working toward obtaining rights of access as early as 1970 and did not secure a long term lease until July of 1991, when the building was turned over to Orange County for use as a rail trail, who granted them the lease. This lease was signed by Loretta Winker and Myrtle Edwards. Optimistic that a lease would be forthcoming, the Chester Historical Society formed a new committee called “Operation Depot” to plan and coordinate the restoration of this building in 1990. The summer the lease was signed, members began cleaning up the building and grounds of the depot. The group applied for and received grants to assist them. One of the most important initial grants funded in 1991 by the New York Council of the Arts and New York State Preservation League was the structural conditions survey that was used to plan the renovation of the depot. It helped the Chester Historical Society prioritize jobs and because of it, work began on the roof. About a quarter of the roof tiles were broken, and leaks compromised the entire roof structure. When the Historical Society analyzed the cost of replacement roof tiles, an ad was placed in a national restoration magazine by one of its members, Leslie Smith. Two years passed before a response from a Michigan resident led to the purchase of tiles that were identical in age and type to the ones on the depot. Free delivery was obtained by way of an ice cream truck that normally made deliveries to the Midwest and headed back to Hudson Valley empty. A local lumberyard provided storage and protection of the tiles that were taken off the roof and considered usable. Even with this purchase of the roof tiles, they had over 50 roof tiles yet to locate to complete the roof. In 1992 the roof tiles were removed and stored and the roof deck and rafters, and gutters were repaired. The tiles were reinstalled without the missing pieces. Much of the restoration work was completed by volunteers who painstakingly cleaned and restored existing architectural details, such as the brackets under the eaves, the sliding baggage door. Much of the exterior was renovated from 1993 to 1994. The Chester Historical Society also received a federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) grant to help them cover the costs of professional work that could not be completed by volunteers, such as the removal of asbestos, installation of heating and air conditioning, and other reconstruction. After the general contract work was finished, the Chester Historical Society hosted a grand opening of the depot, however much work was still left to be done. After a ten year search, they found a carpenter with the knowledge to reconstruct the benches in the ladies waiting room. And finally in 2002, they obtained the last fifty missing roof tiles to complete the roof and over the next year, worked to eliminate minor leaks and repair the chimney. A Main Street New York Grant provided the funding pour concrete onto the east platform, and in 2005 V. Paulis Associates rebuilt the remaining platform, build a custom showcase and painted the interior of the building. They also reconstructed the water closet in the men’s bathroom from recovered fixtures from another period bathroom that was updated. The restored depot has created an interest in business starts that serve visitors along the trail. In this way, the members of Chester Historical Society are real superheros by turning this depot from a liability to an asset through preservation. The Chester Historical Society has many contributors and volunteers to thank for the restoration of this important piece of Chester History, which their vision and leadership brought into fruition. The contributors include Fabco Power, Orange County Historian, State Senator William J. Larkin, Jr. United States Intermodal Transportation Efficiency Grant, V. Paulis Associates,and hundreds of individual contributions. The depot as it looks today is pictured below.
Authors note: this story is based on a presentation provided to Preservation News by Clifton Patrick, Historian for the Town of Chester.