Restored Train Depot Reminds Area of Historic Stops
Local historian Alan Dean Naldrett writes of the train depot's historical significance.
“That’ll be a penny sir,” said young Thomas Edison as the train pulled into the New Baltimore Station.
“What else do you sell besides newspapers and magazines?” asked the passenger, whose New York accent gave away his origins.
Many of the passengers on the train had moved from or were moving to Michigan from New York, now that the Erie Canal had opened up the area. “Just the finest cigars in the northwest, and postcards of Port Huron, Detroit, Mount Clemens, and some of the other places we’ll be going through,” replied 15-year-old Tom, who by this time was an old hand at being a “news butch,” having started when he was 12.
Train kept local area on route
The New Baltimore Station was a stop on what was first known as the Chicago, Detroit and Canada Grand Trunk Junction Rail Road Company. In 1865, under the abbreviated name of Grand Trunk Railroad, the railroad company built a station to handle all the freight and livestock shipped through the area (as well as passengers), that came from the ships on Lake St. Clair to the Village of Ashley (soon to be renamed New Baltimore). From there they would be shipped up the Romeo and Ashley Plank Road to the New Baltimore Station, to be transported by rail throughout the state and country. The depot was built with rounded windows in the Italianate style, and one end of the depot served as living quarters for the station agent and his family.
Tom Edison was selling the paper he wrote and printed himself, The Weekly Herald. It was the first newspaper to be typeset and printed on a moving train, as recorded in an 1862 London (England) Times news article. Tom would sell it all along the local Grand Trunk Railroad line which included stops at Smiths Creek, Utica Plank Road, Ridgeway (now Richmond), and Mount Clemens, as well as the New Baltimore Station. It was at the Mount Clemens Station that Tom Edison saved the life of the son of J. U. Mackenzie, the station agent there. In appreciation, Mr. Mackenzie taught Tom telegraphy, which helped Tom immensely in his later career as the inventor of the light bulb, phonograph, and movies.
After May 3, 1869, when the Village of New Haven was incorporated, the depot was known as the New Haven Depot, and most early photos show the New Haven name on the side.
In 1928, the route that used the New Haven depot was officially merged into the Grand Trunk Western route. In 1940, a movie called Young Tom Edison came out and starred Mickey Rooney. For publicity, Mr. Rooney rode the train along the old route Tom Edison rode on, stopping at the New Haven Depot.
Train service for passengers lasted until July, 1954. The depot was then used for storage, even having a garage door cut into the side to facilitate the moving of items into the depot.
In 1990, the railroad company decided that the more than 125-year-old depot had outlived its usefulness and announced that it would be torn down. Soon, a community group was formed called Save Our Depot, and they did save the New Haven Depot/New Baltimore Station. In 1997, the group purchased the depot from the Grand Trunk Railroad, along with 1.3 acres of land, for the charitable sum of $5,000.
Group keeps depot memory alive
The Save Our Depot, Inc. group then raised about $100,000 for the restoration of the depot. A majority of the money came from community development grants, with an additional $50,000 worth of services contributed. The restoration was finished in the spring of 2004 and the depot officially reopened on June 27, 2004 as a museum for the New Haven and Lenox Township community. The Save Our Depot organization has evolved into the New Haven/Lenox Twp. Historical Society and can be reached at 586-749-6583.
The New Haven Depot is one of the few pre-Civil War depots surviving in Michigan, as well as being one of the few (along with the Mount Clemens depot, now the Transit Museum) still in their original locations.
For more information about the small towns and villages of Chesterfield Township, check out Images of America: Chesterfield Township by Alan Naldrett. The book is available in the local public libraries or can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other popular online sites. It may also be purchased at the Chesterfield Public Library, the Chesterfield Treasurer’s office, Ecco Bookstore, and Preston Automotive.