Alas, Eleventy-One Years is Far Too Short a Time

Photos date from 2005-2007.

Back when I passed through Lansing more often, the attractive Grand Trunk Railroad Lansing Depot was one of the things on my radar. It took a couple of tries, but I eventually got in.

According to, there was no railroad access at all to the city of Lansing when it was declared the new state capitol in 1847; statesmen (and postal deliveries) had to get here via stagecoach or by private carriage, which goes to show how inconsequential this town was at first. Naturally new lines were planned, but Lansing did not get rail service until the early 1860s. After that however, "they came all at once, from seven directions, over a period of 16 years."

This particular depot however did not come about until 1902, and even then it was only precipitated as a result of the announcement by Ransom E. Olds that he would be constructing his large Diamond REO Motor Works here, on the other side of the tracks.

I have read elsewhere however that it was built to replace an existing depot that was smaller, and more utilitarian. At any rate, this depot opened on January 20, 1903--making it 111 years old this year. According to the book R.E. Olds and Industrial Lansing by Michael Rodriguez, it was the second brick passenger depot to open in Lansing. The Diamond REO factory was demolished long ago, but in its heyday it set this neighborhood's tone as a unique, bustling sector of the capitol city.

Though this station was decommissioned on December 30, 1971, it was converted to a restaurant and President Gerald R. Ford (the only Michigander to ever occupy the Oval Office) dined here during a "whistle-stop" campaign tour, on May 15, 1976. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

A post on quotes a now-dead link that says this station was significant for its association with "the golden era of the Grand Trunk railroad system in Michigan and Lansing and its expression of a major work by Spier and Rohns," the Detroit architectural firm that designed many of Michigan's historic railroad stations from 1886 to 1910 (as well as several churches and other buildings). This depot's style is most often described as Jacobethan Revival.

An article on tells of the "most disastrous wreck in Lansing's history." On October 7, 1941 it says, the depot was nearly annihilated when a boxcar from a passing train derailed as a result of a fractured wheel, and careened into the side of the depot as the other 32 cars jammed up behind it.

The train was reportedly moving in excess of 60mph at the time of the derailment, and one of the boxcars was launched across Cedar Street. Author Michael H. Hodges adds that the next train coming down the same track--a passenger train--was only eight minutes away, and that GTRR officials had it stopped just in time.

Apparently the damage to the depot was so severe that it took down a wall and partially collapsed the roof. Dozens of people were seriously injured, and a 13-year-old newsboy who was selling papers on the platform was killed by flying wreckage.

On the lansingonlinenews page, a description of the station's original physical appearance says that:
The white sandstone and pressed brick were set off with green trim. A 'commodious waiting room' was ringed in white tile wainscoting which met white, blue and gold fresco. The rounded ceiling and all woodwork were oak, as was the furniture. There was a 'magnificent' fireplace framed by floor to ceiling marble columns, a men's smoking room and a ladies waiting room 'richly furnished' complete with 'comfortable' rocking chairs.

The cost of construction was pegged at approximately $40,000. Sadly, most of the glitz and glamor of that original decor seems to have gone bye-bye in favor of 1970s puke.

The Lansing City Pulse seems to have taken a page from the Detroit MetroTimes' old "Abandoned Structure Squad" (A.S.S.) bit, and featured the Grand Trunk Lansing Depot in their "Eyesore of the Week" column for January 20, 2010 (which if you were paying attention was the 107th anniversary of its opening).

Anyway, the article called attention to the depot's condition and clamored that "It is high time that Lansing had a train station that was easily accessible from the city center. The Lansing Depot is the ideal choice for the reestablishment of passenger service to downtown Lansing."

The last restaurant sign over the door advertised “Blues, Booze and Barbecues,” for the Capitol Hill Station Restaurant and Blues Club, which the book Michigan's Historic Railroad Stations by Michael H. Hodges noted was listed in city directories as late as 2000.

The latest word was that the former depot was planned to be renovated by the Lansing Board of Water and Light, but I have not heard anything further on the project.

If I recall correctly the large parking lot immediately adjacent to this depot served for a long time (and may still serve?) as a practice range for motorcycle safety classes. I just remember one of my first attempts at getting into this place being thwarted be a large gang of motorcycles riving around in a circle like a pack of wolves.

Here, in a gothic-vaulted loft space above the former restaurant area, I found a squatter's nest--decked out with a full mattress, pillow, and a re-appropriated warning sign (with a few addenda):

I've seen some pretty crazy squat palaces in my exploring days, but this was one of the finest.

...I have to admit I caught myself feeling even a little jealous of this crash pad.

In the bathroom, some fancy old carved wooden brackets remained from earlier days:

Not too far away, an old coaling tower for the Grand Trunk Railroad stood over the tracks where it used to service locomotives:

In the "olden days" (up until the 1950s), when locomotives were still powered by steam instead of diesel, they required large amounts of coal and water to be loaded before setting off on a run.

This was accomplished by dispensing it from large elevator towers such as this one, also known as a "coal tipple," which would drop it through chutes into the waiting locomotive tender below.

When the coal-fired steam locomotive went extinct, thousands of these coal tipples remained standing all over the country, mainly I assume because it wasn't worth the railroad's time or money to bother tearing down.

They are sturdy enough to keep standing for quite a while longer without maintenance, but I would guess that someday they will inevitably disappear.

I was bummed to find that the ladders giving access to the upper parts of this tower had been chopped off, meaning that since I had neglected to bring my Spiderman costume today we were going to be relegated to admiring it from below.

I think though that if I were a local kid, I would find some way to rig something together so as to be able to go up there and drink beers on summer nights while enjoying the view. As you can see there are plenty of them already here painting.

Lower Peninsula of Michigan Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites, HAER (1976), p. 154-155
R.E. Olds and Industrial Lansing, by Michael Rodriguez, p. 52 [dead link]

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