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Cheney residents rally to save train depot

Thu., May 29, 2014

A group of Cheney residents is working to save the city’s historic Northern Pacific Railroad depot from demolition.

BNSF Railway has offered to donate the station to the community if the group can come up with a workable plan for relocating it.

Save Our Station is looking at several properties in Cheney and seeking donations to pay for moving and rehabilitating the 1929 depot.

“We can’t tear this building down,” said Bonnie Eccles, a leader in the group.

(A train passes the 1929 station near downtown Cheney on Thursday. The building will be moved if a community group is successful. SR Photo: Jesse Tinsley)

Cheney Mayor Tom Trulove said the city doesn’t have any money to put toward the depot, but is supporting the efforts by Save Our Station.

The city has more “pressing priorities,” including police and fire protection, Trulove said. “There is no way we can take on that type of burden.”

The group estimates the cost of moving and fixing the station at $415,000. A significant portion of that cost could be covered by a standing offer from an Alaska doctor, whose father grew up in Cheney, to donate money for land acquisition, Trulove said.

Gus Melonas, regional BNSF spokesman, said the railroad has not been using the depot, which occupies land next to the railroad’s busy main line.

“We have absolutely no use for the building,” he said.

The existing station location is not considered safe because it’s too close to rail traffic.

The railroad has put demolition on hold to allow Save Our Station time to come up with a proposal, Melonas said.

“The company will support donating it if there is a realistic proposal,” Melonas said.

The Spanish mission-style station replaced an 1881 wooden depot that served the early years of rail service. The Northern Pacific was the first transcontinental line in the region.

Clarence Martin (pictured, right), Washington’s governor from 1932 to 1940 and owner of an adjacent flour mill, complained to the Northern Pacific about the aging station and persuaded the railroad to build a new one. Save Our Station organizers said the station has one-of-a-kind architecture.

Martin took over the F.M. Martin Milling and Grain Co. from his father, Frank W. Martin, in the 1920s, the group said.

He was mayor of Cheney when the stucco station was built, and later served as governor.

As governor, he championed education and authorized colleges to grant teachers bachelor’s degrees. He was a 1903 graduate of Cheney Normal School, the predecessor to Eastern Washington University.

Old photos show students arriving in Cheney from Northern Pacific trains and walking the several blocks to Showalter Hall.

Passenger service ended in Cheney in 1971, the group’s research shows.

The group is currently researching possible uses for the building, including retail outlets, tourism, a museum, mixed uses or a transportation facility.

The group could form a public nonprofit to run the depot.

(From left, Chris Grover, Susan Beeman, Bonnie Eccles, Bonnie Mager and George Li stand near the Cheney train station they hope to preserve. Grover is on the City Council and Mager is running for county commissioner. SR Photo: Jesse Tinsley)

George Li, an EWU student and group member, said he is optimistic.

“Realistically, it’s just a matter of time before we raise the money,” he said.

The depot is one of two surviving historic train stations in Cheney. The other, Cheney Interurban Depot, 505 Second St., is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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