Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Albion Recorder, April 14, 1997 pg. 4-A
Have you ever wondered what the single railroad track next to Kentucky Fried Chicken (now abandoned -ed.) and the Chemical Bank Accounting Center on N. Superior St. was there for? This track was once part of the Hillsdale-Lansing Branch of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad, which passed through Albion. This week we will learn of the history of this railroad and some interesting details concerning it.
The LSMSRR was the result of many years of planning by the Northern Central Michigan Railroad Company, which conducted a subscription campaign in the 1860s to raise money to finance the building of the railroad. Local entrepreneur William H. Brockway (Brockway Place is named for him) was a major promoter of the railroad, which was completed in 1872. Other promoters were banker Samuel V. Irwin (Irwin Avenue is named for him), E. W. Hollingsworth, and W. D. Fox. Service began on June 22, 1872. During its height the Lake Shore operated three passenger trains daily each way.
Through the years the railroad handled much passenger and freight service as it passed through rich agricultural land in Southern Michigan. Heavy-duty rails were laid to handle freight traffic to and from the REO plant in Lansing. Locally, the line serviced the Gale Manufacturing Company, and the trestle over the Kalamazoo River just west of N. Albion St. (now owned by the City of Albion) is what remains today from that portion of the line.
With the advent of the automobile and trucking, the railroad suffered a sharp decline in the number of passengers and freight service in the 1920s. The Lake Shore was merged with the Michigan Central in 1914, and the two train depots were consolidated to use the Michigan Central depot on N. Eaton St. Twice-daily passenger service was discontinued in 1928, although a passenger car was attached to the end of the three-times-a-week freight trains during the 1930s. By the end of the 1930s, most businesses along the tracks had evaporated.
The Interstate Commerce Commission granted the New York Central Railroad company permission to abandon the tracks from Springport to Lansing in 1940. When you drive to Lansing, the tracks which cross M-99 by the old drop forge company on the west side of the street are these same tracks. They end just past that point where they were torn up in 1940.
The tracks between Albion and Litchfield were abandoned in 1943 during World War II. The Recorder commented at that time, "While the nostalgic hopes of folks who can remember when this branch flourished are that the ICC will veto their abandonment, the commission, of course, will decide on the principle of hard business." Stormy hearings were held in Albion City Hall in which residents from the affected cities and villages voiced their disapproval of the abandonment. It was even revealed that the line had done over $50,000 worth of business the previous year. This was during War time, however, and the scrap value of the tracks, over $50,000, was an inviting factor which turned in ICC’s decision in favor of abandonment.
The tracks were torn up in 1944. However, a spur was allowed to remain through Devereaux and Springport. This was abandoned in 1969 to a point just east of N. Clark St., where the railroad still crosses the street today. A spur in Homer to service the mill there remained for many years until the 1970s, and the tracks from Jonesville to Litchfield were torn up in the late 1990s.
Workers began tearing up the remaining portion of the line through Albion in May, 1976, but were stopped by the city before work could be completed. Unfortunately, the line leading to the former Gale Manufacturing Company was removed. The sad part of the situation was that the city had at that time obtained a buyer for the Gale property that would make generous use of the tracks--it was a manufacturer of railroad ties! Upon discovering the removal of the rails, the company withdrew its offer and hence the rails have not been restored across the trestle. The portion of the tracks that remains today were refurbished with the coming of Guardian Industries which regularly uses the track.
This week we present an historic 1894 photograph of the Lake Shore depot which once stood on the northern edge of our Superior Commercial Historic District on the site where the Chemical Bank Accounting Center is today. This depot was completed in 1872. The East End was used for baggage and passenger waiting. The ticket office was on the western end of the structure. Wooden toilet houses were located south of the building. After the depot was abandoned, it was sold to a Condit area farmer who had it cut into several sections and moved to his farm. The Bank of Albion was constructed on the former site of the depot in 1955.
Lake Shore Depot in 1894
All text copyright, 2015 © all rights reserved Frank Passic