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Watching history preserved

Seneca Train Deport relocated in advance of becoming museum

SENECA — A crowd of at least 50 people gathered in Seneca Tuesday morning, braving an increasingly nasty rain to watch as the town’s old train depot was moved from one side of Main Street to the other.

It was a move six years in the making, as the Seneca Port Authority worked through the court system to gain ownership of the historic building, which will eventually house the Seneca Historical Guild.

Jeff Maierhofer, a member of the Seneca Historical Guild and a teacher at Seneca Township High School, watched as the mostly-wood building was towed across the street.

“[I’m here] to watch history,” Maierhofer said. “Watch history to preserve history.”

Built in 1912, the Seneca Train Depot replaced a previous one that had burned down.

Before the old one was built, the town had been named Crotty, after Jeremiah Crotty, who founded the town in 1850 as he helped build the I & M Canal. The name Crotty still appears in street names, parks and other Seneca landmarks.

Nobody knows why they called the train stop Seneca, Maierhofer said, but soon the name stuck to the town itself.

The train depot came to play an important role in Seneca, with those working on the Landing Ship, Tanks the town produced traveling in from Chicago on the rails, according to John Lamb, a board member with the Seneca Port Authority.

According to Lamb, it was a challenge to find out who owned it.

Eventually, it was discovered International Mining Corporation owned the property. The Port Authority went through the court system to acquire the building, and traded land with a family to get the current space.

Then, it came time to move.

Towing began just before 9 a.m. Tuesday morning. Within ten minutes, it was across the street.

However, getting it in place beside the wood foundation it will be placed atop of proved a challenge.

Once across the street, it was attached to a restored John Deere tractor. It was pulled barely forward before it became apparent the building was slightly off course.

A beam sticking out from the side of the building struck the wood foundation, requiring the crew to back the structure into the street once more.

Then, as the rains picked up, crews had to lay planks beneath the wheels to elevate the beams over the foundation to get it in line.

The whole process took about an hour and a half.

Cindy Beck Wilson, of Seneca, got to pull the structure on the tractor.

A self-described “proud farm girl,” Wilson said the tractor was restored for her as a present from her husband. She relished in being able to take part in the historic move.

“It was very exciting,” Wilson said of the experience. “It was an honor.”

“It’s going to be beautiful to see [the building] restored.”

According to Lamb, the restoration process is already under way.

New windows have been purchased, he said, and they hope to complete outer restoration by summer’s end and to work on the inside during the winter.

“It’s going to take us some time,” Lamb said. “But within the year, we’d like to have it complete.”

The entire project is being funded by the Seneca Port Authority and does not use tax dollars, Lamb said.

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