Canton Historical Society Steams Towards Depot Renovation

by Amy Hahn

Canton Railroad Depot, c. 1910. Photo courtesy of Amy Hahn and Family

Canton Railroad Depot, c. 1910. Photo courtesy of Amy Hahn and Family

The clanking of a locomotive rumbling across iron rails releasing a piercing whistle announcing arrivals and departures may no longer echo through the hills and valleys of Fillmore County, but the citizens of the small town of Canton want to celebrate the city and county’s railway history and memorialize it by preserving and restoring the 1879 Canton Railroad Depot building.

The Depot was part of the Caledonia, Mississippi and Western Railroad. It is one of the last remaining narrow gauge depots in Fillmore County and supposedly sits on its original site, a rarity. What is a narrow gauge? A narrow gauge railway has a narrower track than the standard railway and was cheaper to build. Small towns in Fillmore County were part of this railway line because they lacked the heavy traffic of larger cities and didn’t need the larger rail gauge. The Depot operated on the narrow gauge rail until 1901 when the track was widened.

The Depot sat vacant for years before Larry Huber, a native of Austin, Minn. living in Los Angeles, purchased it in 2011. Huber hoped it could be restored and it was his interest in the building’s historical significance and his concern about its deterioration that inspired Canton residents to create the Canton Historical Society (CHS). In October 2014 he relinquished the depot to the CHS; the City of Canton made him and his wife honorary residents because of his generous donation.

It’s a daunting task, but the CHS is ready to meet the challenge. The depot needs major repair work such as constructing a new foundation. This requires the building be removed from the site and replaced once the work is completed. A floor plan has to be designed and a decision needs to be made about the final use of the building; a strategic plan is in the works.

Current photos of the Canton Railroad Depot Photos courtesy of LeRoy Haynes

Current photos of the Canton Railroad Depot
Photos courtesy of LeRoy Haynes

First up, submitting the building for the National Register of Historic Places. If it gains registry, the building qualifies for grant money and tax credits, which are necessary to the completing the restoration work.

Twin Cities architect James Malanaphy – who has family from Canton – agreed to help the CHS with the complicated and time-consuming process of registry documentation and submission. Malanaphy has been busy drafting the historic nomination submission, which includes researching the building’s historic significance, compiling a bibliographic summary, collecting historic maps and creating measured drawings of the building.

Malanaphy says that even though it’s a small building there’s no doubt of its historical significance and importance to Canton and to Fillmore County. The railroad brought prosperity, growth, people and economic opportunity to the small towns along its line. If the rail had bypassed Canton the city most likely wouldn’t have existed.

The CHS and the city hope the Depot will be the central gem of the historical society and city’s main street revitalization vision, a vision that includes the preservation of several 1800s buildings surrounding the Depot.

So, how can you help with this meaningful historic preservation project? Contact the Canton Historical Society at 507-743-8338 or the Canton City Clerk’s office at 507-743-5000.

Amy Hahn is a PAM member and a native of beautiful Fillmore County, growing up in Harmony. She has a master’s degree in mass communication from Arizona State’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is currently pursuing a certificate in historic preservation at Bucks Community College in Pennsylvania.

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