Sunday, September 19, 2010
The other day I drove around little Ontonagon, Michigan, the town that lies six miles east of the Writer's Lair on Lake Superior and serves as a backdrop (called Porcupine City) for my Steve Martinez mysteries, and took this shot of the decrepit old Milwaukee Road depot (built in 1896) downtown.
The depot and tracks now belong to the Escanaba & Lake Superior Railroad, which wants to abandon the historic old line (born in 1882 as the Ontonagon & Brule River Railroad) and tear up the rails now that its only Ontonagon customer, the Smurfit-Stone paper mill, has closed for good.
Earlier in the summer the E&LS pulled all its old boxcars off the mill property and, everyone here thought, said a last good-bye to Ontonagon. Later in the summer, however, the E&LS suddenly filled the four-track yard with scores of mostly rusty and graffiti-laden blue cars, apparently deciding to use the tracks for storage while the abandonment request wends its way through the courts.
The depot is desolate today, but once it was thriving. The picture below, taken from the same perspective by Alan Loftis in about 1920, shows the Ontonagon depot as a Milwaukee Road train arrived, presumably with an important personage who drew a large crowd.
Note how the depot building has been altered over the years. At some point two windows replaced the single one, horizontal siding replaced the vertical, and the top half of the chimney disappeared. But the original "ONTONAGON" sign remains.
Sic transit gloria.