The Saline train depot

Published In:
Community Observer, Summer 1998,
Summer 1998

Author: Grace Shackman

It's all that remains of the Detroit, Hillsdale, and Northern Indiana line

On July 4, 1870, Saline residents had two reasons to celebrate: it was not only the nation's birthday, it was also the day the railroad reached their village. The Detroit, Hillsdale, and Northern Indiana railroad never got to Indiana or Detroit, but the line connected Saline to points east and west for the next ninety-one years.

In the post-Civil War period, southern Michigan was experiencing "railroad mania," wrote Willis Dunbar in All Aboard: A History of Railroads in Michigan. "Every city, town, hamlet sought a railroad, for it was universally believed that without one a community had little hope for growth."

The coming of the railroad gave an economic boost to Saline's farmers, who could ship their apples, grain, and livestock to larger markets. Eleven years after the railroad arrived, Charles Chapman wrote in his county history that it had "opened up a market for the productions of the country, enabling farmers and others to realize handsomely on many of their investments."

Trains from Saline, Manchester, and Bridgewater connected to the Michigan Central at Ypsilanti. At a station just past Hillsdale, passengers and freight could switch to the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern, the Michigan Central's major rival. And beginning in 1876, trains could connect with the north-south Ann Arbor Railroad at Pittsfield Junction, near Morgan Road in Pittsfield Township.

At the Farmers' Mercantile across the street from the Saline depot, farmers had their oats, corn, and wheat weighed, ground, and stored in a grain elevator. Train cars were loaded from the elevator by gravity.

"Farmers used to drive cattle through the streets of Saline to the stockyards on the east side of the station," reports Saline historian Wayne Clements. Wool, which Chapman says found "a good and steady market," was stored in a barn next to the stockyards until there was enough to fill a boxcar.

Incoming trains brought farm machinery and replacement parts for farmers, and lumber and coal for city residents. Sidings near the station and the mercantile made room for storage, loading, and unloading.

A stationmaster oversaw the whole operation. "He was always an important figure in the community," says Clements. "He met with the farmers, cooperated with the conductors, got in repair parts of implements, did the paperwork." A telegraph operator also worked out of Saline's station. The railroad's last stationmaster took care of both the Saline and the Bridgewater stops.

After World War I, the Detroit, Hillsdale, and Northern Indiana line was acquired by the New York Central system. The last passenger train ran in 1938. Freight service ended in 1961, when the local trains were no longer able to compete with trucks that could offer door-to-door service. Today only one section of the original track is still in use: a spur from Pittsfield Junction to Maple Road connects Saline's Ford plant to the main line of the Ann Arbor Railroad.

In the years after the trains stopped running, the depot near North Ann Arbor Street was used as a garden shop, a storage shed for Meredith Bixby's puppets (see article, p. 71), and a practice space for the Saline Area Players. On July 4, 1995,125 years after the station originally opened, it reopened as the home of the Saline Area Museum. One of the museum's most recent acquisitions is a 1909 caboose, meticulously restored by the former owner. "It's as though the crew walked out yesterday," says Clements.

—Grace Shackman