ITASCA – The 140-year-old Itasca Historical Depot Museum, the oldest publicly owned building in the village, will once again welcome visitors at the end of this month.
After an extensive two-year renovation, the former train station will celebrate its milestone birthday and the addition of a 74-year-old caboose to the museum’s collection with a grand opening event Sept. 28.
The original Itasca Train Depot was erected in 1873, after Itasca founder Elijah Smith donated his own land and $400 to build the structure. The station remained in operation until 1976.
Initially slated to be torn down, the depot was saved by the Itasca Historical Society and was moved about 900 feet to its current location at Irving Park Road and Catalpa Avenue, said Beth Rodriguez, public relations supervisor for the Itasca Park District.
Since then, the depot has served as a home for Itasca’s historical artifacts.
But in 2006, officials noticed the structure had begun to deteriorate, said Maryfran Leno, executive director of the Itasca Park District.
Leno said the district viewed the depot as an artifact itself, and an important piece of Itasca history worth preserving.
“We felt it was very important to preserve that history because that’s why Itasca is where it is today,” she said.
The cost of the renovation, which began in 2011, totals about $815,000, and includes the addition of a picnic shelter, parking lot and concrete pathways.
The depot itself was “stripped to the studs and restored to its original look,” Rodriguez said in an email to the Carol Stream Press.
Funding for the project was provided through the park district, village hotel tax dollars, an Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity grant, donations from Itasca community organizations and $70,000 from a fundraising campaign led by the Itasca Bank and Trust.
In addition to renovating the depot, the district also bought a 1939 Milwaukee Road Rib-Side Caboose from local couple Sue Ellen and Dean Peterson.
A $110,000 Illinois Department of Natural Resources Museum Capital Grant was used to relocate the caboose to a newly constructed pathway 200 feet from the depot and restore the structure to its original appearance. A portion of the funds also were used to add museum cases and an interactive train display inside the depot, Leno said.
“The caboose was built in Milwaukee and was one of the first 75 of its kind to be built in 1939,” Leno said. “The Itasca Depot was on the Milwaukee Line, so it only seemed fitting to acquire the Milwaukee Road artifact to compliment the Itasca Depot.”
Leno said she already has fielded phone calls from train buffs all over the country excited to see the restored caboose.
Tours of the caboose and the depot will be at the grand opening event. The first 400 children in attendance will receive train engineer hats and face painting, cotton candy, popcorn and musical entertainment will be featured as part of the festivities, Rodriguez said.
Leno said she hopes the museum will serve as a reminder of how the history of the village and the history of the railroad intersected.
“[The Itasca Historical Depot Museum] will be a place for people to come to find out that history and preserve it for the next 50 years to come.”