End of line is new beginning for Lehigh depot

The moving of a train depot

The 140-year-old Lehigh train depot was moved Wednesday through downtown Walton. (Time-lapse video by Beccy Tanner)
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The 140-year-old Lehigh train depot was moved Wednesday through downtown Walton. (Time-lapse video by Beccy Tanner)

A 140-year-old character inched its way through the streets of Walton on Wednesday morning.

Weather-beat, boarded and sometimes creaking, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Lehigh train depot was moved about seven blocks from a residential neighborhood in Walton to a permanent foundation near U.S. 50 highway.

The new owner, Bob Gerety of Peabody, is planning to turn it into a combination antique shop and railroad museum after it is restored.

“I am an antiques dealer. To me this would be the perfect setting for an antique store and museum,” Gerety said.

Gerety said it was a two-year process to buy and move the depot.

“I had to save the money,” Gerety said. “Save my pennies.”

The move cost him about $25,000 with building a new foundation, moving electrical lines, and paying for the movers.

“I plan to restore it, providing I live long enough,” the 70-year-old Gerety said. “I am going to try and keep it as original as I can.”

The depot is a throwback in time.

A state that had nearly 2,000 railroad depots less than a century ago now has fewer than 200, according to the Kansas Historical Society.

In the late 19th Century, railroads connecting towns was a sign civilization had arrived. Kansas grew from 2,013 miles of railroad track in 1872 to more than 8,859 in 1890, according to historical documents. The growth gave Kansas the distinction of being second in the nation in miles of track.

But after the 1890s, some railroads – because of national panics, depressions and the rise of the Kansas Populist movement – abandoned lines in Kansas.

Then, as highways were built and people began purchasing cars and trucks, fewer passengers traveled on trains and fewer items were shipped by rail. After World War II, the importance of the railroad in small towns faded.

In communities with dwindling populations, the task to save the depots becomes even harder.

Walton, in Harvey County, has a population of 235 residents.

“I am into historical stuff and I like to preserve historical structures,” Gerety said.

The Lehigh depot was built in 1879 as part of the Florence, Hillsboro, Lehigh and McPherson branch line for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe.

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner