A 141-year-old railroad station has been acquired by the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society to support its expanding rail tourism programs in Northeast Indiana.
PLEASANT LAKE, IND – The historic railroad station on Main Street will serve as headquarters for the Indiana Rail Experience, a partnership of the non-profit Fort Wayne Railroad and the Indiana Northeastern, a regional short line railroad. The acquisition was made possible by a grant to develop a station and boarding site in Steuben County. The station will be open to the general public between Noon and 4:00 PM on Saturday, August 12th to coincide with the town’s annual Pleasant Lake Days Festival.
The station will host the upcoming Tails & Rails Train, Cigar Train, Indiana Fall Color Trains, and the Indiana Christmas Train. Though the station’s interior is largely preserved, improvements will likely include a new platform, lighting fixtures, and other amenities. Plans call for the structure and nearby property to receive cosmetic and structural improvements over the next year to host train rides and community events.
Fundraising for this work will start immediately at fortwaynerailroad.org/donate. In addition, the non-profit is seeking the donation of historic railroad furniture, materials, and ephemera that would have been found in a typical railroad station, including benches, timetable racks, vintage vending machines, signage, and communications equipment, with the goal to make the station as immersive as possible for visitors.
“Harold and Carmen Haifley have been great custodians of the station and their interest in seeing it return to its intended function will have a dramatic impact on Pleasant Lake and the surrounding area,” said Kelly Lynch, Vice President of the Fort Wayne Railroad. “We believe that our increased ridership and investment will be catalytic to the area, and boost this historic community.”
Railroad events in 2022 brought over 2,500 visitors to Pleasant Lake in four days, doubling the town’s population. The program was named Indiana’s “Best New Experience” by the state tourism association earlier this year for its success in attracting visitors and welcoming over $300,000 in economic impact in the region. Trips will also continue to operate out of Angola thanks to a partnership with Trine University, as well as Edon, Ohio, and Hillsdale, Michigan.
“As a former resort town, Pleasant Lake is an ideal spot to see these dreams develop. We’re excited to help stabilize the town’s remaining historic structures and create opportunities for re-investment,” said Elten Powers, President of the Pleasant Lake Historical Society. “We’re especially grateful for the Indiana Northeastern Railroad’s support, as the rail line has been one of our community’s assets since the 1800s.”
“Being able to connect three states and each of these communities is an unparalleled opportunity in the tourism industry. One day our visitors will be able to ride our trails, explore our lakes and streams, visit our towns and festivals, and use our very own historic train to do so,” said June Julien, Executive Director, Steuben County Tourism Bureau. “We are thrilled that Steuben County will be the railhead for this exciting new corridor.”
Constructed in 1882 for the Fort Wayne & Jackson Railroad and later owned by the New York Central, the Victorian Gothic-style depot is a unique structure that combines passenger and freight operations, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The station last served passenger trains when owned by the Little River Railroad, now located in Coldwater, Michigan, and was acquired by local residents in the 2000s. It was once named as one of Indiana’s 295 most threatened structures.
Located off Main Street, the station was once a center of activity in Pleasant Lake that served six passenger trains a day. It was surrounded by freight and passenger trackage, a coal dock, water tower, and a stockyard, and commonly saw freight trains carrying grain, livestock, stone from a nearby quarry, and ice from the lake. Local passenger excursions from Fort Wayne once brought tourists to the lake for weekend getaways.
In addition to developing Pleasant Lake and operating into the holiday season in 2023, the Indiana Rail Experience is also looking to evolve a proposal for a regional attraction initially envisioned for downtown Fort Wayne’s riverfront.
Originally named Headwaters Junction, the proposed cultural campus included an interpretive center and educational restoration facility inside a 1940s-inspired roundhouse, an outdoor railyard park, and a mixed-use community gathering space. With construction costs estimated between 15-20 million dollars, studies determined the attraction would welcome over 120,000 annual visitors to the area once completed. Various factors limited efforts to expand in Fort Wayne despite its long history of local support, consultant recommendations, and community plans. Elements of the original concept and connections to downtown Fort Wayne attractions will be furthered by the newly established Pufferbelly Junction, Inc. at Cass Street.
“Long term, we will need a facility to service and maintain these attractions and a landmark destination to help welcome thousands of visitors each year. It’s too early to know where and how a railyard park could be built here, but while the window to develop in Fort Wayne has closed, the sky is the limit in Northeast Indiana,” relayed Lynch.
A schedule of events, train rides, and excursions is available at indianarailexperience.org.
About the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society
For over 50 years, the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society has created unique and memorable experiences through its celebration of the Golden Age of Railroading – a special era of American transportation, innovation, and connectivity between the 1930s and 1950s. The Fort Wayne Railroad has operated historic steam locomotive Nickel Plate Road no. 765 extensively in public exhibition and passenger train excursion service and its events routinely welcome visitors from all 50 states and half a dozen countries. Its operations are made possible entirely through volunteers and funded by ticket sales, memberships, donations, grants, and sponsorships. For more information, visit fortwaynerailroad.org.