A project initiated more than 15 years ago moved a step closer to reality when the Leesburg Area Historical Society received a $12,000 donation last week from Valero Renewables to help with restoration of the village’s more than 100-year-old train depot.
The donation from Valero, the ethanol plant in Bloomingburg, put the historical society over the $50,000 it was trying to raise for matching grant funds for a $100,000 grant from the Ohio Facilities Commission.
Alice Teeters, secretary for the historical society, said the organization had until July 1, 2020 to raise the money, but can now move ahead and start planning the restoration project.
“We have a lot of planning to do for changes to the structure,” Teeters said. “We want to make it as historically correct as possible, but it will not have a slate roof like the original structure. That’s cost prohibitive and not financially feasible, but we want to make it look as similar as possible to what it looked like around the early 1900s.”
At one time the depot was scheduled to be razed, but it gained a new lease on life after being purchased by the historical society.
Unlike Greenfield and Hillsboro, which preserved their railroad depots by relocating them, the Leesburg Area Historical Society plans to keep the Leesburg depot in its present location, according Teeters.
The first step in acquiring ownership of the old building was obtaining non-profit status for the organization, but Teeters said a grassroots effort at saving the historic structure began more than 15 years ago. Last year the historical society began making serious inquiries about buying the structure from the owner, CSX Corp.
“The village wrote a letter to CSX to get a response on getting contact information,” she said. “Their intent was to either demolish an unsightly, dilapidated building that could have some safety and liability issues, or to see if this grassroots effort could try to save it.”
She said that once contact had been made with CSX representatives, negotiations at gaining a title for the building began with the first order of business being executing a new boundary line survey.
The ultimate plan is to either convert the depot into a small museum or a gathering place for local activities.
The historical society’s goal is to focus on the local history and culture of Leesburg, with the idea of a museum to house items that she said many in the area have said they would be willing to loan or donate to a permanent museum facility.
Combining highlights of Leesburg’s history with the history of rail service to the village is a primary goal of the organization, Teeters said, adding the rail line is still active and provides regular delivery of supplies to Candle-lite, which the company said has been a part of Leesburg’s historic infrastructure for 179 years.
Economics aside, Teeters said there is a certain nostalgia about the railroads and that the train station in Leesburg brings back warm memories of a time past.
“I remember when the train stopped for passengers here,” she said. “My dad had a cousin who would come up from Cincinnati to visit and when it was time for him to go back home, I wanted to get up in the train car to see what it looked like up in there since I was only 4 years old at the time.”
For further information on the organization and depot restoration plans, Teeters advised visiting Facebook.com/Leesburg History or email firstname.lastname@example.org.