By Eileen Bailey
WEST POINT – In the late 1800s, West Point was a bustling town built around the railroads. More than 100 years later, the town is hoping to build up a transportation museum along those same lines.
When the Illinois Central Railroad came through West Point, an almost 4,000-square-foot depot was built to handle customers and other business. It was one of three depots built and is the only one that remains.
After it ceased to be a depot, the building sat vacant for many years, said Lisa Hinnant, administrative assistant to West Point Mayor Kenneth Dill. In 1994, the Illinois Central Railroad donated the building to the city, and a committee was formed to determine what to do with the old depot.
West Point/Clay County Cultural Historical Arts Museum Inc. decided the building could best serve as a museum. The committee has helped to secure grants to renovate the depot and is working to secure transportation-related materials to be placed inside.
The museum will be the first of its kind in West Point and is expected to open by the end of this year.
The cost of the renovation project, including architectural fees, is expected to be about $300,000, Hinnant said. Eighty percent of those funds will come through grants from the Department of Transportation and 20 percent will come from the West Point general fund.
When work at the depot began, the contractor found numerous problems, including flooring that had rotted and termites. The work had to stop while more funds were requested from the Department of Transportation. The delay has pushed back startup of the project to about Feb. 1.
Vandalism also has taken its toll on the depot. Windows have been broken out and some of the original bricks have been taken, Hinnant said.
Construction work is expected to be complete by the end of the summer.
Hinnant said the museum will be used to display mainly railroad memorabilia, since West Point was founded on rails. The museum also will feature a scale model of the railroads that traveled through West Point. Other railroad items have also been pledged to the museum, she said.
The committee also is working to secure a cultural museum for the arts. The first step in that process was securing the Friday Home, which was built in the 1860s. Plans for the cultural museum are currently under way.