Holly Union Depot, Holly Michigan

Date added: February 14, 2023 Categories: Michigan Community Facility Michigan Train Station

The Union Depot was built in 1885-86 to replace an earlier wood depot built in 1865 which burned on August 10, 1884. Built by the Detroit, Grand Haven & Milwaukee Railroad to serve as union depot for that line and the Flint & Pere Marquette, which intersected it there, the depot served as Holly's railroad passenger station for eighty years. The depot is a well preserved example of a small town local passenger depot of Late Victorian style.

White settlement of Oakland County began in earnest after the opening of the Erie Canal, and Holly Township's first white settler arrived in 1831. The township was incorporated in 1838. A small village grew up about the site of saw and grist mills established in 1843 and 1844, respectively, and a post office was established in 1846, but the real growth of the village of Holly began with the completion of the Detroit & Milwaukee Railway (later the Detroit, Grand Haven & Milwaukee) as far northwest as Holly from Detroit in 1854 or 1855. The original part of the village was platted in 1855 and the village of Holly incorporated in 1865.

The British-owned Great Western Railway, whose line ran from Niagara Falls to Windsor, Ontario, assumed virtual control of the D. & M. in 1857 and completed it to Grand Haven on Lake Michigan in 1858. The Great Western amalgamated with the Grand Trunk system in 1882.

A second railroad line running north from Holly to Flint, the Flint & Holly Railway, was completed in 1864. Its construction was instigated by Flint lumberman and soon-to-be Michigan Governor Henry H. Crapo as a means of shipping lumber from Flint, which until then had no railroad connection. The Flint & Pere Marquette took over this line in 1868 and extended it southward to Monroe through Milford by 1870.

According to a historical account of railroad stations in Holly in the article celebrating the present depot's completion in the February 13, 1886, Oakland County Advertiser, Holly's first depot was a small wooden board-and-batten structure built shortly after the Detroit & Milwaukee line opened. The D. & M. soon replaced this building with a better one and, the same article states, "Holly prided itself on the elegant quarters provided for travelers, the west end of the building being fitted up for ticket office and waiting rooms." In the spring of 1865, a few months after the completion of the Flint & Holly line, the two railroads cooperated to build the first union depot on the present site in the angle between the two lines.

This building lasted only nineteen years but, if we can trust the same Advertiser article, had become a shabby disgrace, with its roof "a veritable old moss back, supporting a luxuriant growth of vegetation, and the interior "a mass of repairs and patches...." This depot was discovered to be on fire around 3 a.m. on August 10, 1884. The Advertiser tells the story:

The firemen were promptly on hand but there seemed to be a strange fatality accompanying their efforts never before or since has it been so difficult to get a stream of water to play on the flames each hydrant and each particular length of hose seemed either clogged or full of holes and notwithstanding their almost super-human exertions the old landmark was consumed. Assistance was willingly rendered in removing everything from the building, that done our people seemed to consider their duty performed and stood about in groups watching the flames....

The railroads fitted up freight sheds for waiting rooms while they worked out the plans for a new union depot. The Advertiser reported on September 12, 1885, that the D., G. H. & M. had contracted with H. Heitsch & Son of Pontiac to build a new depot and separate baggage room for $6500, and work began a few days later. Laying of the brick walls of the depot above the foundation began on October 3. The new depot opened on or just before February 13, 1886. Who designed the building cannot be determined with certainty today. The Advertiser article gave credit to "the architect and Mr. Geo. Mason, chief engineer of the D. G. H. & M. Ry." George Mason (this appears not to be the Detroit architect George D. Mason) may have designed the building. There is no other mention of an architect in the modern sense of the person who designed the building, and the newspaper may have used the term in its older, but still sometimes used, sense of builder or contractor - i.e. Heitsch & Son.

The depot exemplified what Walter G. Berg in his 1893 Buildings and Structures of American Railroads termed a local passenger depot, a building designed for a situation where "the passenger business is of sufficient importance to warrant a separate building, or where the freight business is handled in a separate building". Small-town versions of these depots such as Holly's or the Grand Rapids & Indiana's Charlevoix depot typically contained a single general waiting room plus a separate ladies' waiting room with its own lavatory. The Holly depot's general waiting room contained a lunch counter, an unusual feature for a small-town depot where traffic probably would not have supported it but which may have been appropriate because the station served two lines with transferring passengers. The walnut-trimmed lunch counter was initially run by W. H. Kirkland, "an experienced caterer who will set out a clean palatable lunch, not an average railway 'liverpad' that is often worked off on the unsuspecting public," according to the Advertiser.

How long the depot served the Flint & Pere Marquette and its Pere Marquette successors is not clear today, but the depot continued to serve rail passenger traffic on the Grand Trunk Western until about 1964. In more recent years the station has been used for signal equipment storage by the railroad. On May 1, 1998, the village of Holly bought the depot itself and leased two parcels of land from the Grand Trunk that extend from the depot site to North Broad Street. Future uses have not been finalized, but the village intends to rehabilitate the building. It may be used to house a chamber of commerce office visitor center or a museum by the Grand Trunk Historical Society.

Building Description

The Holly Union Depot is a long and narrow one-story cross-gable-roof structure with reddish-orange and yellow-buff brick walls. The Late Victorian building displays broadly overhanging eaves on both long sides supported by open triangular timber brackets. Rectangular gabled projections at about the center of the facade on either long side once contained separate ticket and telegraphers' offices for the two railroads the depot served.

The depot stands several hundred feet east of Broad Street, Holly's main street, and is located in the angle between two railroad lines, which themselves converge a short distance farther east. One line runs west-northwest to east-southeast along the building's south-southwest side while the other curves more to the north as it passes to the building's immediate northeast. A dirt drive and sidewalk along the north side of the Grand Trunk Western line, the west-northwest/east-southeast one, provides access from Broad Street. Holly's central business district lies to the west, an old residential neighborhood to the northeast beyond the tracks, and industrial development fronts on the Grand Trunk Western line across from the depot.

The depot is eighty-two feet ten inches in length and twenty-two feet four inches in depth from outer wall face to outer wall face except for the two ticket/telegraphers' office projections, which each project six feet four inches beyond the wall plane and are fourteen feet three inches in width. The structure - stands on a stone foundation, but the stonework is not visible above today's ground level. A description of the new depot in the February 13, 1886, Oakland County Advertiser states that the "exterior body of the wall was laid with pressed red[dish orange] brick, all facings, projections, pilasters etc. of white [yellow-buff] brick, with cut stone water table, sills, caps, corbels and key stones, surmounted by a wide wooden cornice painted dark brown and red making a contrast pleasing to the eye." This description remains accurate except that the cornices are currently painted a rather garish blue. A rectangular carved stone plaque set into the track-facing facade of each of the ticket/telegraphers' office projections above the paired windows displays the name of the town, HOLLY, in raised capital letters. The lower portion of each of the windows and a center door opening on the building's east-southeast facade have been bricked up and all the windows have been boarded up to protect the building from weather and vandals.

A modern wide sliding door has also been inserted into the north-northeast facade in the building's east end.

The interior contained a general waiting room with a lunch counter at the building's west end, ticket/telegraphers' offices for the two railroads, separated by a passageway seven feet wide, in the center, and smaller ladies' waiting room with lavatory at the east end. The Advertiser article states that a "Smith & Owen heater stands in one corner of the ladies' room" providing hot water heating. The building's east end is currently divided into three rooms, the former ladies' waiting room (with its fireplace bricked in), a small women's lavatory, and a larger men's lavatory. Perhaps one of the lavatory spaces actually housed the Smith & Owen heater. As the building currently stands, the former general waiting room remains a single space except for a small office partitioned off at its southwest corner and the ticket offices and the passageway between have been opened up into a single space.

The Advertiser article states that the interior walls were of white brick "painted and varnished" and the "ceiling, cornices and all inside woodwork of waiting rooms and offices is of Norway pine finished in oils." Much of the molded Queen Anne door, window, and cornice trim and narrow diagonal beaded ceiling finish remains intact.

Holly Union Depot, Holly Michigan South-southwest facade (1999)
South-southwest facade (1999)

Holly Union Depot, Holly Michigan North-northeast and west-northwest facades (1999)
North-northeast and west-northwest facades (1999)

Holly Union Depot, Holly Michigan North-northeast and west-northwest facades detail (1999)
North-northeast and west-northwest facades detail (1999)

Holly Union Depot, Holly Michigan North-northeast and east-southeast facades detail (1999)
North-northeast and east-southeast facades detail (1999)

Holly Union Depot, Holly Michigan East-southeast facade (1999)
East-southeast facade (1999)

Holly Union Depot, Holly Michigan Roofline detail (1999)
Roofline detail (1999)

Holly Union Depot, Holly Michigan Former main waiting room looking west-northwest (1999)
Former main waiting room looking west-northwest (1999)

Holly Union Depot, Holly Michigan Former ticket/telegraphers' office area looking north-northeast (1999)
Former ticket/telegraphers' office area looking north-northeast (1999)

Holly Union Depot, Holly Michigan Former ladies' waiting room looking north (1999)
Former ladies' waiting room looking north (1999)