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New Lebanon residents work to restore train depot

This is the New Lebanon train depot that served the Corkscrew Railroad from 1863 to 1953.
Corkscrew Rail Trail
The New Lebanon train depot served the Corkscrew Railroad from 1863 to 1953.

A long abandoned train depot in Columbia County is on the threshold of making a comeback.

A group of New Lebanon townsfolk are working to restore the train depot that served the Corkscrew Railroad from 1863 to 1953. According to theHistorical Marker Database, the line was built when a North Bennington entrepreneur was denied access to the Troy and Boston Railroad's New York lines. The name "Corkscrew" attests to "dozens of turns over 40 miles of hilly terrain” enabling the line to bypass Troy.

Joe Ogilvie is president of the "Corkscrew Rail Trail," which runs from New Lebanon to Stephentown in Rensselaer County.

"We have a dedicated group of volunteers that live in Stephentown and another group that live in New Lebanon," said Ogilvie. "And we work together to keep the trail that we do have clear, you know, as the different seasons go through, and trees fall down. And, you know, we we do our best to maintain the trail."

Ogilvie has been working since 2018 to raise funds to save a run-down train station along the line.

"It had for many, many years been abandoned," Ogilvie said. "It's coming up on the 70th year where they the last train went through, and they pulled the tracks up. It had at the center of the station, a chimney. And that had done well for you know, all these years. And then, about I guess, last winter, the chimney fell over and poked some holes in the slate roof. So our big mission is to patch those holes. So the inside of the station can dry out and we can begin to restore it."

The volunteers have been helped by Town Supervisor Tistrya Houghtling.

"We entered into an MOU, acknowledging that the town would be able to utilize the depot station for whatever purpose we deemed the best purpose for the entire community, which is yet to be determined," said Houghtling. "And we formed a committee. And that committee is working on exploring other municipalities, other depots, historic renovations to find out what does that relationship look like? Does the town own the building? Does the town financially support them? So we're in those exploration stages to figure out what our different options are. And then once we have all the options in front of us, then the town and the rail trail, who is the owner of the property and the depot building will get together and figure out what makes the most sense for our municipality."

Houghtling says with county involvement, the historic depot station could possibly be transformed into a visitor center or an ice cream shop or some other private entity that brings business to the town.

Ogilvie describes the interior:

"One side was the waiting room for the train. And the other side was the baggage handling area. But both spaces are, are good size and the ceiling height is about 11 feet nine inches. So it's a beautiful a kind of a big building. And one end of the station, where the waiting room was, has beautiful windows all around, they've been, you know, over the years been broken and things. But as we restore that first room, I think we're going to have just beautiful light and a nice place to gather if people want to get together for a meeting or an activity. And we're we're directly behind the library in the center of New Lebanon,” said Ogilvie.

Houghtling said "So now we're just figuring out what the relationship looks like and who's going to apply for grant funds, whether it's going to be the town, the not for profit Rail Trail, a combination thereof, whether we're going to create a different not for profit just for the depot station. I think there's a lot of options, and we're still looking into what the best fit might be for our municipality."

Houghtling says the rail trail has asked the town to use ARPA funds to help expand the trail and that the town pay all back taxes so volunteers can focus their fundraising energy on at least shoring up the depot station. The volunteers have a $20,000 fundraising goal.

"But that really is just to get it in a state where it's not getting more damaged from the weather, getting the holes patched up in the roof and getting the windows you know covered or patched up," Houghtling said. "And so there's an active GoFundMe. If you go to GoFundMe and you put in Corkscrew Rail Trail. It will come up and anyone who's interested in helping to preserve the history of the Depo station and expand recreational activities here in New Lebanon."

Houghtling adds donations are tax deductible.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.