MURPHYSBORO — As a little girl, Jane Martin Peters would take her father's handwritten note down the street to his job at the M&O train depot on Walnut at 17th Street, where she'd be given his paycheck to bring home.
She said the train depot was where her father, James Martin, made a living, supporting the eight children he and his wife, Lucille, had. Not only does she consider the two-story brick building a historic city landmark, but one of the lasting connections to her father, who died from cancer when she was nine years old.
She has joined the ranks of voices from Murphysboro, who are calling for city officials to reverse their decision to try and tear down the train depot, built in the 1880s, because they consider it an eyesore and say its owner is allowing it to fall into disrepair.
MURPHYSBORO — The train depot was once of the most striking buildings on Murphysboro's main …
After hearing the city council's decision, her fiancé, Mitch Segler, created a "Save the Depot" Facebook page in an attempt to drum up volunteers to help the owner do what needs to be done to bring the building into compliance. He's offering to volunteer his own construction skills and solicit help from others to help owner Martin Schaldemose work to get the building prepared for its opening as another restaurant.
Segler said he left a telephone message for the building's owner, but has not heard back from him.
Segler points to the building's fortitude during the March 18, 1925, tornado, that knocked out much of the city, including the railroad yard and roundhouse across the street, where the Dairy Queen is now located.
For more than 120 years, it's stood along what is now Walnut Street at 17th Street, charming its way into the hearts of many in the community.
"It withstood the ’25 tornado, which says a lot about its construction," Mitch Segler said. "The train depot stood there and laughed at the tornado. I’d hate to see it go.”
Fellow train aficionados showing support
He's joined by another train aficionado, Justin Sobeck, who grew up in Christopher and now lives in Pacific, Missouri. Since learning of the plans for the depot, Sobeck started a petition asking the city to reconsider its plans to tear the building down. As of late last week, Sobeck had collected 570 signatures on the petition.
"I didn't want to wake up one morning to hear the train depot was demolished the day before and say 'why didn't I do something to save it'?" Sobeck said.
"Train stations and depots are an interesting cross-point between public domain and private ownership, because they do mean a lot to the community," Sobeck said. "I was concerned until I talked to Mayor Stephens. I was concerned about government overreach or imminent domain abuse … It's tough to justify the demolition of a building on the National Registry of Historic Places."
In response to Sobeck's petition, Mayor Will Stephens explained that this was an effort to get the attention of the property owner, who has been promising for years to complete the project. Stephens said the property had been cited several times for various reasons, all citations that Schaldemose, who identified himself as the owner, had apparently ignored.
Most recently, he was fined $450 for "open attractive nuisance" because the building had open windows, Stephens said. On Friday, about 21 second-floor windows have no glass panes and the two-level scaffolding that the city wants removed was still up outside the building.
This past week, Schaldemose said he has panes for the windows, but that those panes are in a warehouse, while he finishes cleaning the bricks.
Schaldemose had also said his time was split completing two other renovation projects. He has plans to turn the building into another restaurant and has already poured lots of money into fixing it up.
On Friday, he said had not been contacted in the past week by the mayor or anyone on the city council. He said the outcry from the public showed that others felt the way he did about the building.
He said the building was structurally sound and said he did not want to board up the windows, as that would make the building look unattractive. He also said the city had no authority to demolish the building.
"I need to find the time to do it," Schaldemose said of the remaining work.
Alderman Gary McComb countered, saying the city does have the authority to authorize the building's demolition. McComb voted against the city pursuing means to demolish the depot.
"Yes, the city does have the authority to do that," McComb said. "He doesn't want to push the city to do that."
For instance, McComb said the city could go to ask and petition a judge for a demolition permit, which it has done in the past to tear down abandoned homes in the city.
McComb suggested that the owner put a new roof on the building, board up or put in new windows and take town the scaffolding before it falls over on someone, to come in compliance. Then, McComb said, Schaldemose is free to work on the building's interior at his leisure.
"I just hope that he gets that part done what we want pretty quick …," McComb said.
A reversal of the depot's fortune?
Stephens said he was encouraged by the comments and queries he's received from people and that city officials want to hear more from people.
Community members can share their concerns about the train depot during the public comments portion of Monday night's Standing Committees meeting. That meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall, Council Chambers, 202 N. 11th St. in Murphysboro. Council members plan to discuss the matter again at their next regularly scheduled board meeting in May.
"Essentially, we’ve heard from the public loud and clear that demolition is not something that anybody wants," Stephens said. "And so Monday night, we will welcome — always welcome — comments on that issue, and we’re going to explore all of our options.”
At its April 19 meeting, city council members voted 6-1 to allow city administrators to look into how they might acquire the building to tear it down; three other aldermen were not present at the meeting.
The building was built in 1888 as part of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad line; it was later part of the Gulf Mobile and Ohio Railroad before the company left the line in 1977. The building was eventually bought by a group of Murphysboro businesspeople, who turned it into the first of about three restaurants, according to Jackson County historian Mike Jones.
In 1984, the train depot was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
“Of all of the things that happened over the last week, I would say I’m really encouraged by the petition, I’m encouraged by the number of people that have reached out to me because it shows that people really do care about that building," Stephens said. "Whenever people speak out, their government hears them, and we take that into account. So this has all been a very good process that will lead to a positive outcome for the building.”