(EAST HELENA) On Saturday morning, East Helena’s historic railroad depot slowly rose off of wood blocks behind City Hall, where it has been sitting for years. Within two hours, it was moved across the parking lot to a new permanent foundation.
“It’s been a long seven years from the start, and I’m delighted to see the preservation effort finally come to fruition,” said John Barrows.
Barrows is the co-chair of the effort to preserve the depot. Groups like the City of East Helena, the East Helena Historical Society, the Lewis and Clark County Historical Society and the Lewis and Clark County Heritage Tourism Council are planning to restore the building and turn it into a museum.
On Saturday, two large cranes lifted the building. It was then placed on a trailer and carried to its new foundation, in the northeast corner of the City Hall parking lot. The cranes were repositioned, and they lowered the depot into place. Bags of ice were placed under the building, so the straps that had been used to lift it could be removed and it would settle into its correct location.
Cloyde Johnson, a crane operator for Northside Welding and Fabrication, ran one of the cranes.
“It seemed to go really good – smooth,” he said.
Contractor Andy Anderson, who has organized much of the work to get the depot onto a permanent foundation, recruited Johnson to help with the project. Johnson and Tom Jones of Tom’s Crane Service came up with a plan to move the building.
Northside and Tom’s both provided cranes and volunteered their workers’ time.
“It’s always good to give back to the community,” Johnson said. “I mean, a couple hours out of our day ain’t really nothing.”
The depot was built around 1910. It initially served as a railroad telegraph station at Louisville and Clasoil, several miles east of East Helena. The Northern Pacific Railway then moved the building to East Helena, after the town’s original depot burned in 1930. For years, it played a significant role in the ASARCO smelting operation, as ore came in by rail and finished products went out.
The depot was used through the 1980s, then served as an office, but it was eventually left empty. In 2012, Montana Rail Link considered demolishing it, but historical advocates arranged for the company to donate it to the city of East Helena.
The current plan is to restore the building to its 1930s appearance. It will be repainted red with green trim, the original Northern Pacific color scheme. Barrows, who worked at the depot in the 1960s, is donating some appropriate equipment from the railroad days for the interior.
Pam Attardo, Lewis and Clark County’s historic preservation officer, said there is still a lot of work to do on the building, from stripping off lead-based paint on the outside to repairing some broken windows. However, organizers agree this move is a major step forward.
A number of East Helena residents were on hand Saturday to watch the depot make its final move. Barrows said he was grateful for the interest people in the community have shown.
“Really the community is coming together,” he said.
Barrows said, in the coming months, they will be looking for volunteers to help them get the depot building ready. For more information, you can contact the East Helena Historical Society at (406) 227-6811, or visit their website.