21Country: With rich history, restored Craigville Depot now has new purpose

One of two historically significant railway artifacts part of Riverfront Development
Published: Jun. 14, 2022 at 5:03 PM EDT
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - Over 140 years ago, a new train stop was added in Wells County: the Craigville Depot. “The depot was built in 1879,” Don Steininger told ABC21, “by an individual that was very, very proud of what he was doing — and that’s why he created such an architectural jewel.” It was a stop on the Nickel Plate Railroad -- but the years haven’t always been kind to the historic structure. After operating for decades, it was abandoned. For some time, a telephone company ran out of it, but it too left, and the Craigville Depot sat vacant once again.

In 1979, a century after its construction, Ed Byers moved the entire building to New Haven, near Edgerton and Ryan Roads. Some may remember the small railroad he built to give children rides (named the New Haven & Lake Erie Railroad). After Byers died, it fell into a nearly irreversible state of disrepair. That’s when Steininger stepped in. The Fort Wayne developer is an avid railway history buff, active with the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, and currently serves as president of Headwaters Junction — an organization creating tourism opportunities in Northeast Indiana. “I wasn’t sure it was salvageable, but we did,” he explained. “First thing, we had to pick it up and get it out of there, so we moved it down the road into this warehouse at Casad.”

“We had it in there for three years,” Steininger continued, “and that’s when we completely stripped it down, took all the parts off, and had them reproduced by an Amish woodworker… so now, it’s just a matter of picking away and getting everything done.” The now restored Craigville Depot, was one of two important pieces for creating a rail attraction industry in 21Country. When complete, the depot, alongside a vintage rail passenger car, would sit outside Promenade Park, to become a refreshing place to stop near the Rivergreenway.

On April 30, the first installation began — a 1953 U.S. Army railcar, with a fresh coat of bright blue paint, was moved from storage in New Haven, to 1010 Cass Street. Two days later, the Craigville Depot made the same trip. Careful crews worked hours to make sure both were placed in their new home safe and in tact. As a planner, Steininger is hopeful it will become a popular destination during the summer months, “you gotta believe — if you build it, they will come… I’m very optimistic.”

Over the next few months, the site will remain active and under construction. And located behind Fort Wayne Outfitters is appropriate — that business is in the old historic Cass Street Depot. Steininger guarantees by Labor Day, work will be done, and the Craigville Depot and neighboring railcar will be open for business. An outside caterer will serve ice cream, coffee, cold drinks, sandwiches and pastries to people that pass by. The railcar will be available to rent out for private events. Outdoor seating and a gazebo area is also being built. One of the proposed names for the project: Pufferbelly Station.

“We’ve got a lot of donors, we raised over a million dollars” Steininger shared. “We want to make sure all of them know, we’re not going to go back and ask them money for operations — we will be self-sustaining.” He expects it to generate revenue, to fund future projects.

“We are preserving two things: the depot and the club car. If we would’ve not picked them up, they’d be gone — they’d be scrapped,” Steininger concluded. “Going forward, we want to promote other things, promote the history of railroads, and how important they’ve been with our community.”

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