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Heritage Essex talks railroad history during AGM



by Adam Gault

Members of Heritage Essex held their committee’s Annual General Meeting on the evening of Thursday, April 18. In addition to providing insight of the committee’s operations, the meeting featured a special presentation from local railroad enthusiast, Bob Mitchell.

Much of the region’s development, and especially Essex’s, can be traced to the history of railroading in the area, which served as the hub of the county’s transportation centre upon completion of the Essex Railway Station in 1887.

Mitchell, along with Heritage Essex, strive to protect and maintain the more than 130-year-old station, which he explained is undoubtably tied to the greater history in Essex as a whole.

“[The station] is a thing of beauty, it’s a thing that is of our culture. It belongs to the people and shouldn’t be lost,” Mitchell said, who was recently appointed as a Heritage Essex Board member. “There’s so many events that have happened here in this building, troops getting on the trains to go off to two World Wars. It’s a showplace for showing off the history of the town. [Stations] are museums, really.”

Mitchell comes from a family of railroaders, with his grandfather having worked for Canadian Pacific Rail in Saskatchewan when Mitchell was a young boy.

It was this family history, along with Mitchell first laying eyes on the Essex Railway Station as a 4-year-old, that helped spark the railroad passion that has stayed with him for the entirety of his life.

“My dad used to drive us out [to the Essex Railway Station] on Sundays to watch the trains go by, and I loved the station,” Mitchell explained. “I’d have to say that this is my favourite station of them that I’ve seen because it’s so different.”

Citing the impressive stonework design, size of the structure, and busy nature of the station during its heyday, Mitchell explained the Essex Railway Station always stood out as a one-of-a-kind hub on the Michigan Central Railway, that helped link New York to Chicago, and everywhere in between.

“At one time, there were over 40 passenger trains a day that went past these doors, and 70 some freight trains a day,” Mitchell explained. “It was because of the railroad that Essex was put here in the first place.”

With Essex not being situated on any river or major body of water, the railroad was the life of the town, allowing important trade to take place in the centre of Essex County during those formative years of the late 19th century.

Mitchell hopes that through the preservation and learning about the importance of heritage structures in area communities, individuals will become more inclined to learn about their own local history and how our heritage buildings can do much to teach us about the past and how best to look towards the future of our communities.

For more information about the Essex Railway Station, and the collective efforts of Heritage Essex, visit essexrailwaystation.com.


© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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