133-year-old Kent railroad depot may disappear if buyer not found

by JEREMY NOBILE | RECORD-COURIER REPORTER Published:

Kent -- A symbol of this city's iconic industrial roots is in jeopardy.

A former railroad depot with ties to the city's early beginnings may be torn down if a private investor doesn't come forward to save it.

But whether the building on West Main Street adjacent to a Carter Lumber facility, with its chipped red siding, dingy white doors, broken windows and weathered foundation, can actually be saved remains unclear.

The depot, which originally served a railroad connecting lucrative, late 19th century coal mines in southern Ohio with Cleveland's Lake Erie ports, has changed hands many times since it was built in 1881 by the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway, noted Kentite Bruce Dzeda, a local historian and author of "Railroad Town: Kent and the Erie Railroad."

The building was last used by Kent Feed and Supply, which closed for business last year.

Carter Lumber Co. acquired the property in 2012, said Chuck Price, vice president of construction/development at Carter Lumber. The business was aware the building would be turned over to them once it was vacated.

Carter Lumber used part of the parcel to expand its outdoor storage yard. Then, cognisant of the 133-year-old building's heritage, the company offered the structure to the city.

"We told Kent that if it has some kind of historic value, you're welcome to salvage it," Price said. However, Kent has declined the offer.

"The problem from the public perspective is the building condition and previous use, all of which brought the city to the final conclusion that the city could not re-purpose the building," said Kent Service Director Gene Roberts.

The company isn't planning to raze the building just yet, Price said, but likely will if no one else comes forward to preserve it. He added while there has been some interest from at least one individual, who he declined to name, it's uncertain if anyone will commit to saving or relocating it.

PRICE SAID he expects to know more in June.

"Not all buildings can be reused, and not all buildings can be saved," said Sandy Halem of the Kent Historical Society, which originally formed in the 1970s to save the Erie Depot on Franklin Street when it was abandoned.

That building is owned by the KHS and space is leased to the Pufferbelly Ltd. restaurant and other entities, creating a revenue stream for the nonprofit organization.

The KHS doesn't have the financial resources to take on the depot on West Main Street, but supports its preservation.

Halem, however, fears rough winter weather may have damaged the building's aging foundation base, noting now "it may be impossible to move."

History shows that a predecessor of the W&LE -- the Connotton Valley Railroad -- first constructed the depot's accompanying rails for coal shipping, joining southern Ohio mines with northern Ohio ports.

The railroad eventually began hauling passengers to Canton and Cleveland, Dzeda said. The last train which regularly carried passengers came through Kent in July 1938.

The railroad route eventually was known as Cleveland, Canton & Southern. In 1949, the W&LE was leased by the Nickel Plate Road and in 1964 became part of the Norfolk and Western Railway and then Norfolk Southern before the new W&LE emerged in 1990.

Around its peak for passenger travel, Dzeda said the terminal was a "very busy place.' Meanwhile, a rail agent there inspected train bearings at the stop.

A crossing guard manned a post there through the first half of the 1900s, preventing motorists from crossing the tracks as trains came by up until a gate system was installed between in the late 1940s.

The structure on West Main Street isn't the only old railroad depot with an uncertain future.

A small, yellow depot located on Stow Street near downtown Kent that caught fire last April may be doomed as well. That building, constructed in 1905, is now owned by CSX Railroad, which has not commented on what it might do with the structure, which is used for storage.

It served as a passenger depot for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad for decades. Meanwhile, a freight depot across from that was demolished in 2010.

Email: jnobile@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4155

Facebook: Jeremy Nobile, Record-Courier

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