The news that the former Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway depot, a landmark on Kent's west side since the 1880s, will be saved from demolition and relocated nearby is another victory for historic preservation.
While the Wheeling & Lake Erie isn't as well known as the Erie and Baltimore & Ohio rail lines, it was part of Kent's railroad heritage for many years and the depot on West Main Street served passengers until the late 1930s. Several other rail lines operated there until the structure eventually was taken over by Kent Feed and Supply Co., which was located there for more than 30 years until it closed late last year.
The former depot was acquired by Carter Lumber Co., which is located next door. With plans to expand its outdoor storage yard, the lumber firm offered the building to the city of Kent, which declined to acquire it because of its condition. Carter Lumber, to its credit, did not pursue immediate demolition of the building.
Ted Klaassen Jr., president of Components & Equipment International, Inc., which is located across the street from the former depot, has come forward with a plan that will save the 134-year-old former depot. He plans to have it lifted from its foundation and moved across the street to his business site on July 27.
The building will be within site of its original location, and will be rotated so that the side now facing the rails -- where passengers entered and departed from trains -- will continue to face the rails at the new location.
Klaassen's plans for the depot are unknown, but the fact that it will be preserved is good news. While it isn't in the best condition, it remains part of Kent's heritage as a railroad town, and it would be a shame to see it demolished -- as another depot, the 1905 B&O freight depot, was a few years ago. Hopefully, Klaassen will be able to put it to a new use.
Historic preservation is important. While it is impossible to save every old building -- and some, past their prime, may be better off demolished -- structures such as the Wheeling & Lake Erie depot that have a documented historic past ought to be preserved if possible. Kent lost many of its 19th Century buildings to "progress" in recent decades, but there seems to be a growing recognition of the need to preserve the past.
The depot will be the second 19th Century landmark to be relocated in Kent in less than a year. Last fall, the Wells-Sherman House, which dates to the 1850s and has ties to the city's founding family, was relocated from the KSU Esplanade area to North Water Street. It is in the process of being refurbished.
Stein House Movers Inc., which will be moving the former depot on Sunday, also moved the Wells-Sherman House, which proved to be a considerably more formidable undertaking as it traveled through the downtown area. The firm did a fine job on that move and we trust that they will be able to do the same with the depot.