The ribbon was cut Thursday morning on the new Cleveland Urban Area Transit System offices and transfer hub in the former Southern Railway Depot on Edwards Street in the Five Points area of downtown Cleveland.
It was a day former stationmaster Mitchell Lyle said should have happened a long time ago.
Lyle, 86, worked for Southern Railways for 40 years and one day, the one day being a Monday when he sat in a corner to watch all the other employees work.
“I’m glad to see this. It’s a shame it took this long to come about. It ought to have been done years ago. We’ve done good to keep the building open,” he said.
There is an iron fence between the back of the old depot and the railroad tracks that is almost a barrier between the building’s past and present uses. But, there is a gate in the fence and the facility remains ready if passenger train service ever returns to Cleveland.
“I don’t know if that will ever happen,” he said. “It depends on Amtrak. People quit riding the train and started flying and driving. They’d cut a car off. The next train would come by and he wouldn’t have anybody on his [train] and they finally just quit running passenger trains.”
Lyle said he took down the passenger scheduling board about 4 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 11, 1970, when passenger train service ended. He kept the board for many years, but had to get rid of much of his personal possessions when he moved to Garden Plaza.
“That day was kind of sad in a way, but nobody was crying. We had already reached the conclusion they wouldn’t be running any more trains,” he said. “The train crews were all honored to be running the last run. It was a privilege for them to do that.”
Cleveland City Councilman David May Jr., remembered Sunday afternoons when his parents would bring the family to the depot to watch people coming and going.
“It was a small community back then and my mom and dad knew everyone — where they were going, where they had been, when they were coming home, and, of course, the soldiers leaving. Dad talked about how sad it was in World War II when there were so many troops leaving from Cleveland.”
His father, David May Sr., worked for the telephone company for 15 years, then in business for awhile. He eventually retired as a captain with the Cleveland Fire Department. His mother was Lucille Huff, the sister of Cleveland’s Medal of Honor winner, Sgt. Paul Huff.
“They watched him leave from this station,” May said. “The depot was the hub of our community back then.”
The depot will become a transfer hub for the bus service within the next couple of weeks.
The Cleveland Community Concert Band opened the ceremony on Thursday with railroad songs. The last song of the set was, of course, “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”
The depot was completely restored by Tri-Con Construction Co. in keeping with requirements to keep the building on the National Register of Historic Places.
The whistle of an approaching Norfolk Southern freight train sounded as Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland began speaking about the history of the old building. Construction began in 1908 and finished in 1910 at a total cost of $18,900, including a change order in the amount of $1,500 for enlarging one of the rooms and adding heat, which the mayor said was provided by pot-bellied stoves.
Guest speaker Tom Thomson, deputy regional administrator for Region IV of the Federal Transit Administration, said the federal government contributed $443,000 in the form of a transportation enhancement grant, $367,000 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds and a local match from Southeast Tennessee Human Resources Services Agency of $133,000.
Rowland said several presidents visited the depot including Rutherford B. Hayes, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Franklin D. Roosevelt; and first ladies Mrs. William Harrison and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt. President Franklin D. Roosevelt traveled through Cleveland on three occasions, twice in one day, on his way to dedicating Chickamauga Dam and Norris Dam.
SETHRA Executive Director Ray Evans, who retired effective today after 30 years, was awarded a plaque from the Metropolitan Planning Organization and a letter of appreciation from U.S. Rep. Scott DeJarlis.
Evans said there were days when railroad men believed the day of transition would never dawn.
“There were years we didn’t think this day would ever come, but it’s finished and we’re almost in it,” he said.