Hopewell Depot, Hopewell Junction
One of Dutchess County’s renovated train stations
Views of the Hopewell Depot: The station as it looks today
It is, in many ways, the little train station that could. In the last 140 years, it has survived two moves, a derailment, the consolidation and subsequent demise of expansive train service in the Hudson Valley, a fire, and a lack of funds for its restoration. Yet today, Dutchess County’s Hopewell Depot stands as tall and proud as in its best days.
It typically happens the other way around. First comes the town, then the train station. But when the station was built in Hopewell in 1873, all that was there was a wagon crossing, a church, and a mill. By 1892, however, three rail lines were intersecting in what was by that point called Hopewell Junction — the Newburgh, Dutchess and Connecticut Railroad; the New York and New England Railroad; and the Dutchess County Railroad (commonly referred to as the Maybrook Line). A town quickly sprouted up around it. Amazingly, in 1905, the depot was moved about 500 hundred yards to bring it closer to the intersecting tracks. It was picked up whole and rolled away on logs. Five years later, it was moved again, about 15 feet back, when the Maybrook Line added a second track.
|The station in 1905 (above) and present day (below)|
After the second move, a basement was dug under the southern waiting room, accessible by a stairway under a hatch in one of the offices. Legend has it the room was used to sell liquor illegally during Prohibition in the working-class town, which is said to have had some 20 bars before booze was outlawed. “Some of the old-timers who are still around mentioned that their parents knew of this,” says Paul Stich, the chairman of the museum the depot was turned into. “Of course, nobody admitted that they were ever there. We don’t have any proof, except that we found a lot of old bottles down there.”
Passenger service was suspended in 1933, due to the Depression and the competition from automobiles. In 1963, a freight train derailed and almost destroyed the depot. When the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge (now the Walkway Over the Hudson) suffered a fire in 1974, the Maybrook Line — now the Dutchess County Rail Trail — ended through rail traffic. It ran its last train in 1982, when the depot was abandoned. Four years later, the building was a burned-out shell, thanks to the work of arsonists.
|During its heyday in 1908 (above) and the burned-out building in 1986 (below)|
The Hopewell Depot Restoration Corporation was founded in 1996, but returning the darling station to its former glory was slow going. With little awareness about the historical gem, which sits off the main Hopewell Junction thoroughfares, fund-raising was arduous. When the eastern end of the rail trail opened right alongside it in 2010, however, things accelerated. “It is isolated from the rest of the community,” says Stich. “And it wasn’t until that rail trail got rumbling that people came back that way. An awful lot of people in the community did not have any clue as to how much history there is there.”
But they caught on. With donations now rolling in, the roof was replaced with a fiberglass shingle made to look like slate. The interior was entirely reconstructed, as just two inner walls could be salvaged from the fire damage. Pictures of the original interior — as well as of similar stations that were built around the same time — gave restorers a good sense of what it looked like. “The railroads in the 1870s and ’80s pretty much built the same station at different points,” says Stich. “Some were a little smaller and some a little larger, but they were all basically four rooms. Evidence from them helped where we had none of Hopewell.”
|“Conductor” Bernard Rudberg|
The station is now complete. Two waiting rooms; a telegraphy, ticket and freight office; and a station agent’s office have been made to look as much as possible like they originally had. The museum portion displays 500 items that were donated or saved, giving visitors a comprehensive look at how this once-dominant mode of transportation operated. Now the HDRC is working on fixing up the grounds surrounding the depot.
And when that’s all done, they can drink to their own success — legally.