Wabash Station celebrates 100 years of service

Thursday, July 15, 2010 | 8:16 p.m. CDT; updated 11:44 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 15, 2010
Buses wait at Wabash Station for riders on Saturday, Aug. 9, 2008.

COLUMBIA — Lee Ruth remembers bringing his daughter, Jennifer, to the Wabash Station in 1969 when she was 4 years old.

He wanted her to ride the train before passenger service became a thing of the past in Columbia.

Growing up, he said he rode trains often because his family didn't have a car until he was 5 or 6.

"For $1.25 each, we bought a ticket for the round trip to Centralia," Ruth said.

Those rides in the '60s were some of the last on the Wabash rail line that connected Columbia to the main station at Centralia, 21.7 miles away.

From Centralia, passengers could connect to trains heading for St. Louis, Chicago and beyond.

On Friday, a Wabash Centennial Jubilee will mark the 100th anniversary of the station at Tenth and Ash streets.

A formal ceremony is planned for 2 p.m. in the station, located at 126 N. Tenth St., led by Mayor Bob McDavid and local  historian Bill Clark.

An event from 5 to 9 p.m. will celebrate the history of the station and include an exhibit at Artlandish Gallery and railroad displays outside.

The event will feature tours of the station and what used to be the railroad storage facility below Artlandish Gallery. There will also be children’s activities including miniature train rides and art projects.

Train collectors and historians plan to set up displays of railroad memorabilia, and the Columbia Fire Department will show off its pump truck, which arrived on the train in 1940.

Columbia's Wabash Station was built in 1910 with limestone from Boone County quarries that matched the MU's white campus and other downtown buildings.At the time, most train stations were made of wood or brick, so limestone made Columbia's station unusual. Built at the cost of $15,000, it featured a clay tile roof and forest green walls with red mahogany trim inside.

It was the nicest station Wabash had created for a town the size of Columbia, saidlocal historian Marty Paten.

The first Wabash Station

Before the current station was built, a temporary wooden depot on stilts handled passengers traveling on the Wabash between Columbia and Centralia from 1867 to 1910, Paten said.

The original depot, where the downtown Fire Department has a station today, became a freight terminal until it was abandoned in 1969 and later demolished.

Rail stations were busy places at the beginning of the last century. Dozens of passengers filled the lobby to purchase tickets and wait with their piles of luggage for the train to arrive.

Conductors hustled them into cars as a telegraph operator tapped out messages; buggies lined up outside, much like buses do today.

The train station was a sweaty, foul-smelling place. There was no air conditioning in the summer, and coal stoves heated the place during the winter, Paten said.

The rail way that served Columbia was one of the busiest in the state because of traffic generated by Christian College (now Columbia College),  Stephens College and MU, Paten said.

Sidney Seymour, 78, of Sturgeon, worked for the Wabash Railroad from 1953 to 1991 and spent much of that time as a mobile agent, overseeing the transfer of passengers and freight between Centralia and Columbia.

“The only thing that is different today is the platform," Seymour said about the Wabash Station in Columbia. "The front of it changed very little."

Wabash builds a new station

In 1899, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, the Katy, built a depot in downtown Columbia where Shiloh Bar & Grill operates today, Paten said. This competition provided an added incentive for the Wabash Railroad to build a new station.

Ground was broken for one at Tenth and Ash streets on July 27, 1909, Paten said.

“The Wabash Railroad is proud of the magnificent progress, which Columbia is making, and we want to contribute our full share,” the vice president and general manager of the company announced at the onset of the project, according to the station's nomination form from the National Register of Historic Places.

The new station officially opened to the public on July 16, 1910, Paten said. An area physician named H.F. Mikel purchased the first ticket for his mother to travel from Columbia to Jacksonville, Mo.

The station wasn’t just the transportation hub for the city. It also served as the communication hub, Paten said. The building had a telegraph, and reporters would camp out and wait to get news from across the country.

In 1911, more than 10,000 people came to Columbia when MU's then-athletic director Chester Brewer invited alumni to return to campus for the nation’s first homecoming, a football game played against the University of Kansas.

Although some came via the MKT line, most rode the Wabash, according to Paten.

The Wabash merged with the Norfolk & Western Railway in 1964 and ended passenger service to Columbia on April 18, 1969, Paten said.

Kenny Greene came to Columbia in 1970 as a college student. He has had a jewelry studio, Monarch Jewelry, in the North Village area since 1979, and he remembers coming out of Ernie's and seeing trains full of lumber rattling through town on their way to the station.

In February 1979, the city of Columbia approached the railroad and purchased the station, the depot and the surrounding 7 acres from Norfolk Southern Railway for $250,000, according to Paten.

The station also earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

Columbia began using the building as transit hub in 1982. Columbia's transit system received more than $2.3 million in federal funds to renovate and expand it in March 2004, according to a previous Missourian article.

The expansion, completed in October 2007, earned a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification award.

For the past 100 years, the building has been an architectural asset to the community.

As a Wabash executive said a century ago, the station "will be a building that will grace a town of Columbia's size," according to the station's nomination form from the National Register of Historic Places.

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Nancy Truesdell July 16, 2010 | 12:52 p.m.

When I was a little girl in the early 60's, my dad was the ticket agent and telegrapher for the Wabash Railroad at the Centralia, MO Wabash depot. The passenger line which ran from Centralia to Columbia's Wabash station was called the Columbia Branch. Once, my dad arranged for my whole Kindergarten class to ride the Wabash's Columbia Branch line from Centralia to the Columbia Wabash station. I also have fond memories of watching the glamorous Stephens girls board the Wabash trains with their luggage, hats, and gloves to travel to Stephens College in Columbia. One year, a Stephens class had it's reunion dinner at the Centralia Wabash depot. It was actress, Agnes Moorehead's class, and she attended. Dad took me to work with him that evening so I could meet her and get her autograph. I dreamed of becoming a Stephens girl (and that dream eventually came true). I did not ride the Wabash to Stephens, however, as the passenger service was stopped before I attended. Such wonderful memories of the Wabash Railroad passenger trains! Nancy Truesdell Coonrod

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