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Spicer Railroad Depot

John M. Spicer was one of the organizers of the St. Cloud and Willmar Railroad and, as president, actively participated in the design and construction of the line as it progressed diagonally through the northern half of Kandiyohi County. He had acquired the historic Columbia townsite in 1882. The tracks were laid through the townsite in the fall of 1886. He platted the village of Spicer in November of that year.

As owner of the townsite, Mr. Spicer refused to sell lots to the east of the tracks for business purposes. The commercial part of town was to be located on the west side of the railroad. Two grain elevators and a warehouse were constructed here even before the tracks reached the village. These were served by passing tracks lying to the west of the main line. The Spicer Depot was located on the east side of the main line between Manitoba and Frances streets.

During the early years the depot was the center of all activity. The passenger trains provided regularly scheduled service connecting Spicer with points both north and south. Chartered trains brought “excursionists,” as they were called, from locations far and near. Freight trains departed with their burdens of grain, cattle, and, later, ice harvested from Green Lake. The trains returned with loads of lumber, coal, and the numerous items needed by the early settlers. Undoubtedly the largest single piece of freight was William Olson’s 85-foot steamboat, which arrived by rain on two flat cars in 1887. The depot handled them all.

With the coming of the automobile and the development of roads, the need for passenger service slowly began to decline. On August 1, 1949, the Spicer village council acted: “Resolved…that the council go on record opposing and objecting to the discontinuance of Saturday passenger trains on the Sandstone & Willmar lines and also oppose and object to the discontinuance of agency service on said line. Said discontinuances would react against public convenience and necessity.”

The last passenger train left Spicer in 1950, 64 years after passenger service started. The last freight train left 30 years later.

Spicer depot agents whose terms of service can be documented are: Al Whittaker, 1886-1888; A.G. Mardin, 1888-1912; W.R. Andrews and William Peterson, during 1913-1944; V.E. Solmonson, 1946-1961. After 1961, New London and Spicer shared Ervin Lehman as depot agent. On April 4, 1975, the Spicer depot closed.

In 1976 the Burlington Northern Railroad offered to sell the depot to the city, provided the city remove it from the B.N. property. The city offered $1.00 for the building and accepted the cost and liability of moving it with the idea that it could be moved to the city park for use as a historical and community center. The B.N. accepted the offer. The moving of the building to park, however, ran into considerable opposition. The council struggled with various alternative sites for nearly two years and finally in 1978 decided to place the depot on a piece of tax-forfeit property located just north of city limits.

This move entailed considerable expense including annexation, extensions of utilities, renovation, landscaping, and so forth that were covered by federal funding under a Title 5 Multi-purpose Senior Citizen Center Grant. The property was annexed to the city in 1978 and began to be used as a Senior Citizens’ Center, called the “Whistle Stop.” Additional property, adjacent to the site, was purchased in 1980 for use as a mini-park. Later the same year this site was selected as a location for a new city well that unfortunately did not have ample supply and was abandoned. The property was used periodically for the city council meetings for a time, for other group meetings, and as a Senior Citizens’ Center until completion of the new Dethlefs Center in 1985. The depot then suffered the same fate as the newly drilled well. It was abandoned.

The council struggled with the problem and decided in 1987 and again in 1989 to move the library to the Whistle Stop, but this met with opposition, ultimately squelching the idea. Other alternatives were pursued including use as the city office, Green Lake Sewer District office, and day-care center. All ideas seemed to meet with similar obstacles. As a result, the depot continues to stand unused because of altered plans due to unforeseen circumstances.