Friday, June 16, 2017

Old Mandeville Train Depot Fades Away

In an issue of the News Banner in October of 1976, newspaper feature writer Polly Morris gave us a nostalgic look at the old Mandeville train depot as it slowly deteriorated in the mid-1970's. It was a look that recalled the passenger trains in their prime, as they brought hundreds of eager weekend vacationers and summer residents to the northshore. 

 Here is that article.

Mandeville Depot Gone Forever By Polly Morris
October 27, 1976 News Banner

The little Mandeville depot is gone forever. Nothing remains except an outline of the foundations and a few memories. But those too will fade away.

Time was when Mandeville was an exciting resort town, and the depot was part of it all. In the early 1900's "seeing the train come in" was the thing to do in a small town. It was the high-spot in an otherwise dull, daily routine. In Mandeville it was especially rewarding to be at the depot at traintime. And if the train was late, people shivered in grim delight, wondering what dire consequence had caused the delay.

Two a Day

There were two trains a day, one in the morning, and one in the late afternoon, but despite the daily appearance, the locomotive was always like a mighty metal monster as it growled and snorted along the twin tracks. It belched black smoke, spewed sparks from its stack, and furiously blew out a white cloud of steam, as though angry at the delay in getting along the rails on time, rain or shine.       

There was always a crowd of townspeople waiting for the excitement. As the train came to a grinding halt, the door was opened by the uniformed conductor who let down the collapsible steps and swing dexteriously to the ground. He carefully placed a step stool at the correct distance, then stood aside to assist the old gentlemen ,the young children, and the ladies vith long skirts, lest they make a misstep.

The Fares

The commuters were always the first to alight, and they left the depot as quickly as their tired feet could take them away. They hurried away from the confusion afoot, in buggies, and in horseless carriages, to the indignation of the real horses who expressed their fear and hatred by frantic lunges and whinnies and snorts.

To the towns people, the commuters missed the best part. The baggage doors slid open and men shouted and sweated removing the freight from coach to carrier and to platform. The most valuable was taken inside the depot which sheltered it until someone came for a pick-up.

The pleasure-seeking passengers poured out of the coaches, and the children who had been cooped inside for two hours ran wildly along the platform and into the depot, making a general nuisance of themselves. 

Dusty and disheveled ladies emerged with huge picnic baskets on one arm and a baby on the other. Somehow they made themselves "respectable" by smoothing dresses and straightening hats with gloved  hands, while miraculously grabbing after children and soothing screaming babies at the same time.

Inside and out the little station vibrated with activity and noise. The passengers got in the way of the baggage men, the conductor became red-faced by yelling "All aboard" to those who were saying tearful goodbyes, and inside the ticket agent was frantically trying to read schedules, give information, locate luggage, and sell tickets to the tardy ones who always waited until the last minute. The waiting room was overflowing with a mass of humanity who milled around looking for a seat or the restrooms.

A small boy pushed his way along the train selling soft shell crabs, and a driver of a horse-drawn taxi haggled over fare to the park or lake. The departure of the train scarcely lessened the commotion, for the area was still like a three ring circus. Even the freight was interesting. There might have been a crate of furniture from a mail order store, a new plow, a busted box of "bloomers," a bawling calf, or a crate of cackling geese. And sometimes a coffin.

Beginning of the End

The little depot enjoyed the hubbub, and it saw plenty in its day. It lived from the days of the wagon to the day of the Stanley Steamer... and on to the LEM that landed on the moon.

It lived from the days when long hair was smoothed over a "rat" or made into a bun until long past the first shock of bobbed hair. It knew Mother Hubbards and Middy-blouses and Mini-Skirts. From chewing tobacco to "grass." From Lamplight to Neon, and to the days when passengers were no longer profitable, and tin-lizzies took everyone on new gravel roads and on ferries.

As a Senior Citizen

The excursions ended, and like all senior citizens, the station slowed down but was still quite useful. The Railway Express dropped off freight, and a business firm used one end as an office. The unused waiting room between was the most used of all. A  pair of pigeons decided to call it home and before long there was a whole flock of them.

Then the express shipments were discontinued. And the business firm moved out, and the little depot was deserted by humans. They would pass by and perhaps look in its direction occasionally. It was not that they did not love such a quaint landmark of bygone days. Many times, in a wave of nostalgia, someone would remark, "Something should be done about the cute little depot." But no one did. Only the pigeons seemed to care.

Each dawn they would soar above it. . . and each dusk they would return to its humble shelter. It did not matter that it was only a ramshackle building. It was where they raised their young and perhaps in its last lonely days, the little depot was soothed by their gentle cooing.

The Bitter End
October's bright blue weather brought an end to the slow death of the depot. One morning when the pigeons were soaring, men came with trucks and tools to demolish the depot. In a methodical way they tore it apart. The old timbers screamed as nails were withdrawn after so many years. They moaned in the cold wind from the lake, and fell to the ground with a whisper of protest.

The destruction went on almost unnoticed by the townspeople who cared, but not enough.

Only the pigeons were dismayed. They flew aimlessly
about, uttering shrill distress cries. The old bulletin board had been taken away before the last I departure of the pigeons who no longer had a home. May be they wondered why such a lovely little depot had to be destroyed.

And maybe there are a few people who wonder too.

 Click on the images below to see the accompanying photograph and the original article as printed in a larger, more readable version. 

The Mandeville Train Depot in 1920 

Today the Mandeville train depot area has been given a new mission, to serve as a trailhead for the popular Tammany Trace jogging trail and bicycle path. Each weekend hundreds of people visit the new shelters and stage area to find the foods, crafts and farmer's market essentials they can't find anywhere else. 

See also:

Mandeville Trailhead Photos 

Mandeville Trailhead Museum


Polly Morris joined the writing team at the Mandeville Banner in February of 1974.