Train station advocate reminisces

By Joan Hunt - ReminderNews Managing Editor
Windsor Locks - posted Fri., Apr. 15, 2011
WLPA co-founder Barbara Schley’s mother is in the middle of this photo, taken at the station where her grandfather worked. Photos contributed. - Contributed Photo

When I was young, my grandmother always encouraged me to dream big,” recalls Barbara Schley, co-founder and the moving force of the Windsor Locks Preservation Association. “When we founded the WLPA, I did just that.” Her dream, now and then, has always been to preserve the historic train station that is quite literally falling apart on Main Street in Windsor Locks. While the recent dissolution of the WLPA may look as though her dream has failed, she and others are hoping the town will pick up the gauntlet and do the right thing by this memorable piece of the town’s heritage.

Schley inherited her interest in the railroad. “My great-grandfather, grandfather and dad were all railroad engineers,” she said.

“My first memories of the train were riding to New Orleans to see relatives,” recalled Schley. “I remember the thick cushioned seats in the passenger car, the burst of the whistle blowing as we departed the station, the clackity-clack of the wheels, as the train moved smoothly through the rural areas of Louisiana and the feel of the warm breeze through the open window next to my seat.”

“There were vivid smells in the air, as we passed through fields of cotton and sugar cane, past old country roads and little towns and onward to our destination. Those are my fondest memories of being on the train,” she said.

Schley looks at the historic train station as a symbol of hope, pride and accomplishment for the community and future generations. “The historic train station, I think, taught us all a little more about ourselves and how important the past really is,” she said. “I plan to continue to urge town officials to not let the dreams of the WLPA be lost.”

The group formed in October 2004, after a meeting on site with Amtrak officials, since Amtrak owns the land. Rick Lawrence from  Lawrence & Associates in Manchester donated a structural survey and analysis of the train station building and a cost analysis. Tom Elmore of Elmore Design Collaboratives in Suffield created a site work “vision” of what the station and property could look like. Dean Amadon provided the group with a market appraisal and defined the amount of land the group later asked Amtrak for. John Curtis of Brimfield, Mass., provided the WLPA with a historical study and important overview on the importance of the station to the community.

There are a group of others also credited by Schley for getting the project as far as it went, which was to acquire eight of eleven approvals from Amtrak needed to purchase the station and the land. Unfortunately, the process bogged down, according to Schley, when town officials refused to draft a necessary letter to Amtrak.

She believes this is because town officials fear that the Amtrak agreement will interfere with their future plans for a rail platform next to the historic station. “What people haven’t realized was that the WLPA would have gladly allowed the town use of the necessary property, or even given it to the town, should we have been allowed to acquire the station,” she said this week.

When the WLPA made public its intention to dissolve,  Patrick McMahon, the economic development consultant for Windsor Locks, referred to the relocation of the train stop as “the real catalyst to redeveloping that whole area.”

“For years now, my heart and energy have been sequestered by the station, and now I sadly realize we don’t have much time left to save it,” said Schley, as she and WLPA co-founder Mickey Danyluk and other members of the organization prepare to donate all the funds they have raised to other preservation projects in the state. These include the historic “Isle of Safety” and the Mansfield Depot Caboose.

Thanking Danyluk and all the people who have donated their time, money and energies to the preservation, Schley said, “We have urged town officials to immediately resume our quest and contact Amtrak to continue negotiations. If they wait any longer, this remaining historic structure at this end of Old Main Street is going to be lost, forever. The station’s last hope, I feel, lies in the hands of town officials.”

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