Researched by Sharon Happel
Written by Melody Snow
None of us were around when that first whistle blew nearly 150 years ago. Nor even when the steam rolled over the fresh Shellsburg bricks 30-some years later as the building that still stands today opened its doors for the first time. But if you’ve ever walked the tracks to school, ducked under the rickety, one lane, beamed railroad bridge on 3rd Avenue, or tried to flatten pennies on the rails, then I’m sure you have some sort of memory of the depot and the steel track beside it. Granted, you may not have given it a second thought until now, but that little plot of land between 2nd and 3rd Avenue and the rails beside it are what brought sustenance to our Iowa way of life.
For most Iowans, that way of life was about growing corn, we knew how to grow it and we knew those rails would carry that corn to those who wanted it. We also knew a climb aboard could take us to faraway places and return us home again to our loved ones waiting. But it goes without saying that not every train carried, shall we say “above-board” passengers. Yes, there were many a hobo that rode in and out of Vinton in search of work, a place to camp, and hopefully a bit of Mulligan’s Stew. Evidence of this is tucked under the roof of The Depot’s porch. Look closely at the small weathered shed and you’ll see the tell-tale signs hobos left to mark the way for those who would follow. Inscriptions used to communicate the whereabouts of a place to sleep, areas of danger, and where to find food.
If you’ve never seen the hobo markings or entered The Depot don’t let the opportunity slip by without peeking in. The foundation is dressed with Iowa limestone and the bricks fired right here in Benton County. Stroll through the arched port cochere and out onto the covered porch and envision the trains rolling in, passengers milling about, waiting to greet loved ones and waving farewell to others. Step through the doors onto the marble terrazzo tile floor and experience a glimpse of what travel was like a century ago. Notice the tin ceiling crafted right here in Vinton, the thick oak wainscoting that hugs the walls, and the classic “egg and dart” molding setting the tone of the last century throughout the building. There’s also the dispatcher’s room, a telegraph desk (above which still hangs the original porcelain lamp), and plenty of passenger train mementos including timetables, railroad rules and regulations, as well as menus, uniforms, and fare tables.
But the mystical magic begins when you allow your childhood memories to run away with you as you hop up next to the working model train replica of the actual Vinton Depot and its surrounding area as it looked in the early 1900s. This room-filling replica was painstakingly crafted by local model train buffs and lovingly donated to The Depot. It is with great appreciation that we are able to share it with you.
Don’t let another year go by without experiencing history first hand, sharing it with a child, or rekindling your memories with a glimpse into yesteryear. The Society’s goal is to preserve the past, not just to offer a visit to The Depot or the other local historical sites, but to be able to walk away with an experience that sparks a story in our minds. When you come for the Farmer’s Market that’s held at The Depot during the summer months, don’t walk away without inhaling the history surrounding you.
Let the wobbly brick walkway lead you into another time where steam from the train swirls around your feet and the far-off whistle blows.
Tours of The Depot can be arranged by appointment contacting Phil Borleske (319/472-3918 or 319/444-0634) or Brian Trester (319/472-2086). OR easier yet, from June through September The Depot is open every Thursday evening from 5-7 when the Vinton Parks & Recreation Department holds the local Farmer’s Market on its lawn.
If you would like more in-depth detail regarding the information in this article or becoming a member of the Benton County Historical Society, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Facebook.
“To know nothing of what happened before you were born, is to forever remain a child.” ~Cicero