Lacey history buffs are about to kick off a major fundraising drive to build a museum patterned after the Lacey Train Depot, which served the community from 1891 until 1933.
It will not only be a replica of the historic building, but also will cover the same footprint as the original train station on Pacific Avenue property the city purchased from Burlington Northern-Santa Fe railway in February 2005.
It’s an ambitious project to say the least, raising about $2.25 million to construct the museum and fill it with exhibits in time for the city’s 50-year birthday party celebration in 2016.
The project has the support of Lacey city officials, the Lacey Historical Commission and the Lacey Historical Society.
“It would be the signature event for the city’s 50-year anniversary,” Lacey Museum curator Amber Raney said.
But first things first. There’s a little mystery Lacey historians would like to solve.
After a year of research, local historians have yet to document the demise of the depot. Was the two-story depot and freight building torn down, or did it burn to the ground? And, more important, when was the site vacated?
“It’s crazy, but we can’t figure it out,” Raney said. “Somebody in the community has got to know something.”
I asked Jim Hannum – who has spent years researching the railroad history of South Sound and written two authoritative books on the subject – what he has uncovered about the mystery. Poring over old maps and photographs, Hannum has narrowed the time frame for the depot’s disappearance to between 1947 and 1951.
Surely, there are some old-timers who can pin it down more precisely.
In the years following the depot’s departure, the property was part of the Lacey Plywood site, but it was largely left undeveloped, except for some paved area, Raney said.
For the past year, the site has been the scene of several archaeological surveys conducted by students under the direction of South Puget Sound Community College anthropology professor Dale Croes. Just last week they poked around again, uncovering artifacts such as square nails and coal clinkers, which are irregular lumps of incombustible residue from coal-fired railroad engines.
The cultural resource inventory of the site will be submitted to the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. If the depot site is officially listed as a state historic site, that will help project sponsors’ applications for state and federal grants, Raney said.
The Northern Pacific Railway Co. constructed the depot in 1891 and abandoned it in 1933. But people could still board and disembark long after the stationmaster quarters and ticket office were emptied, Hannum said.
In all likelihood, a depot neighbor was hired by the railroad company to sell tickets, he said.
Thurston County was home to a dozen railroad depots in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when the railroad was the major link for moving cargo and people by land. Roads and automobiles eventually replaced the rails, but consider this: The Lacey Depot was in service for nearly 25 years before Highway 99 passed through Lacey in 1915.
“The railroad is what brought people to the community,” Raney said. “Construction of the depot set off a chain reaction of events that started to give Lacey its identity.”
For instance, the depot was close to the first Lacey post office, which also opened in 1891, as well as a hotel and a horse racing track built by Olympia businessman Isaac Ellis. The depot also was a jumping-off spot for families vacationing at one of the 18 family owned resorts that dotted nearby Hicks, Long, Pattison and Southwick lakes.
It’s not an exaggeration to say the depot set the stage for the development of Lacey. So it’s fitting for the Lacey Museum project to coincide with Lacey’s 50 years as an incorporated city and 125 years as a community called Lacey.
Through exhibits, educational programs and research archives, the Lacey Train Depot museum project will tell the story of Lacey’s past, present and future.
The story won’t be complete until historians can say with some degree of certainty what happened to the depot.
Anyone with information about the depot’s final chapter is urged to call Raney at City Hall (360-413-3557) or the Lacey Museum (360-438-0209). She can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 email@example.com