Sebewaing Railway Depot – The Historical Center of the Western Thumb

One morning, I stumbled across the Sebewaing railway depot while taking pictures nearby. I recognized it right away as a rail depot. However, there were no signs no markers to indicate what this nondescript building was in the midst of the Sebewaing industrial area. Neglected, with broken windows, faded peeling paint, and vines almost covering one end, it seems like a sad fate is ahead for this small historical gem. Amazingly it’s still in use by the Huron and Eastern Railway.

Doing a little research, the first mention of this passenger and freight line was in 1882. A narrow-gauge railway was put in place from East Saginaw to Sebewaing by the Saginaw, Tuscola, and Huron Railroad. A nine-mile extension to Bay Port was completed in 1884, then on to Bad Axe in 1886. The railway was converted to a standard gauge starting in 1891. Finally, it was purchased by Pere Marquette in 1903. Local lore states it was the Pere Marquette that constructed the depot that stands today.

Saginaw, Tuscola, and Huron Railroad

Sebewaing depot train
Sebewaing Railway Depot Incoming Train c1910

In 1885, the ST&H railroad was just under 50 miles long between Saginaw and Bay Port. Yet it reported carrying an astounding 720,000 short-distance passengers, and it transported 39,000 passengers the length of the line. There were five locomotive engines, seven-passenger cars, and three baggage cars. The railway had 137 assorted cars for freight. Schedules from the early 1900s indicate that four trains a day ran past the Sebewaing Railway Depot.

Sebewaing Depot Back
Sebewaing Depot Back

Besides being an essential transport line for the area farms, processed fish and stone products from the area quarry are the ST&H also promoted the railway as a way to get to a desirable tourist destination. A pamphlet was published in 1889 entitled, “Summering at Bay Port on Wild Fowl Bay, Lake Huron, the resorters’ paradise.: a delightful, healthful, and economical place to spend the summer vacation.” Of course, this was an advertisement for transport to the famous Bay Port Hotel, and the pamphlet was published yearly. The whole area, especially Bay Port, was an early tourist destination. Passenger service ceased for the railway in the early 1930s.

The end of the era as a working freight depot occurred during the inflationary period in the US economy in the late 1970s. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, C&O, acquired the Port Huron and Detroit Railroad in 1984 and closed the Sebewaing railway depot that same year.

I hope that I’m wrong about this little depot’s fate. Port Hope, Pigeon, and Marlette have restored and found new life for their local train depots. It’s a slice of late 1800s Michigan depot architecture that would be a shame to waste. Hopefully, Huron and Eastern Railway will consider sprucing it up a bit. After all, it lasted this long.

The Shortlines of Huron & Eastern Railway (HESR)

Huron and Eastern Railway is a short-line railroad that operates 394 miles of track on the lower peninsula of Michigan’s Thumb and Flint/Tri-Cities areas. Genesee & Wyoming, Inc. owns it after purchasing it from RailAmerica in 2012. The historic Michigan Central Railroad terminal in Vassar serves as the railroad’s headquarters.

As seen on the map, the main line of the railway runs northeast from Saginaw to Bad Axe, then southeast to Croswell. The other line of the Huron & Eastern Railway runs from Midland east to Bay City, then south through Saginaw to Durand. The current route was built on the former Central Michigan Railroad and Grand Trunk Western Railroad track.

The Huron & Eastern Railway has interexchanges with the Canadian National and Great Lakes Central Railroad in Durand and the Lake State Railway in Saginaw and Bay City.

The railroad’s traffic mainly comprises agricultural and industrial items such as cement, fly ash, and chemicals. The company also offers the service of railcar storage for up to 500 cars. 

Genesee & Wyoming Inc. owns or leases 116 freight railways globally. Collectively “G&W” has 7,300 employees servicing 3,000 customers.

Sources for Sebewaing Michigan Depots

Polly Ann Railway Title Page

The Legend of the Polly Ann; Pontiac, Oxford, and Northern Railroad – Nicknamed the “Polly Ann,” or Poor, Old, and Neglected, the line was a single-track, standard-gauge, steam railroad situated entirely within the Thumb Region of Michigan, extending from Pontiac to Caseville for just under 100 miles.

Rails in the Bay - Building Railroad in Michigan's Thumb

How Caseville’s Railway Ended Up in Saginaw Bay – On one shipment from Cleveland, the ship ran aground on the rocky shoals near Oak Point. During the salvage operation, 23 rails slipped into Saginaw Bay and were lost. This disaster delayed the start of the Thumb railroad building until December. It’s assumed that those rails are still at the bottom of the lake today.

The End of the Line _ Depot @ Port Hope

The Beautiful Restoration of the Port Hope Depot – It wasn’t until 1903 that the Flint and Pere Marquette railway extended tracks from Harbor Beach north to Port Hope in the Upper Thumb. Financed by local businessmen, a standard gauge rail line was laid the final seven miles. The following year a modern depot was built to host passengers and cargo. Now passengers could come in from anywhere in the country, and Port Hope could ship commodities to other markets.

Michigan4You Logo

5 thoughts on “Sebewaing Railway Depot – The Historical Center of the Western Thumb”

    • Great question, Doug. Railroads usually replaced / moved both when converting from narrow gauge, to keep the rails in the center of the wooden ties.

      Reply
  1. Interesting story about the train depot in my hometown of Sebewaing, Mike. Thanks for sharing. I have two small stories about it.

    FIRST, Sebewaing’s depot is still very much in use, even though it might not look like it is from its exterior. Two trains each day depart from both Saginaw and Bad Axe, one in the morning and one at night, each heading for the other destination. Since Sebewaing is about the mid-point of that trip, each train stops here and wait for the arrival of the second train.

    Then, the Saginaw train crew gets off its Bad Axe-bound train and takes over the Bad Axe train headed to Saginaw, for instance. The other crew does the same… and everyone heads back to their starting point, and their own home base. The engines and cars get to their destination, but it’s through a crew change midway along the line! I think it’s a very clever answer to moving staff around.

    SECOND, another reason Sebewaing’s depot is an important one is because… ready for this… it supposedly has the only working train crew toilet between Saginaw and Bad Axe! That’s a good enough reason for many people!

    I remember going to the Depot in the mid-1950s (I was a little printer’s devil) when my family-owned Sebewaing Blade newspaper would get a delivery. Sometimes it was big boxes of paper or other times, a part for a printing press. The railroad freight business was steady then, and we had never heard of UPS or FedEx, although at least UPS did exist. At that time, much of the freight into Sebewaing came via the railroad through REA, the Railroad Express Agency, which operated until 1975… about when we first started hearing about UPS.

    Keep up the good work, Mike — we always enjoy your stuff!

    Reply
    • Thanks Walt…this post was purely a whim. Thanks for the background. It explains a lot. So basically it’s a loo.

      Reply

What do you think?

%d bloggers like this: