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OLD DEPOT STANDS AS REMINDER OF AN ERA

SHARE OLD DEPOT STANDS AS REMINDER OF AN ERA

A few stretches of abandoned track in four counties and a wooden building in two shades of faded brown, about 100 years old, are the only reminders of what central Utah senior citizens call their "railroad era."

The building stands about 30 feet off U.S. 89 in City Park, on the south side of town, and Mt. Pleasant residents, particularly those with a heart for history, are now trying to determine its fate.Residents Liz Ream and Chris Parry want the building turned into a restaurant with railroad decor and an appropriate cuisine.

They told the City Council that it's in an ideal location to catch the tourist trade now that the economy has become a forefront concern.

Peggy Hamilton, Mt. Pleasant Historic Preservation Commission chairwoman, and Shirley Lauritzen, Sanpete Community Theater president, presented the council with plans for restoring the building and converting it to an outdoor theater.

The conflicting proposals have pushed the fate of the century-old but still structurally sound building into the hands of the council. Council members say they want to reach a decision soon.

The depot was given to Mt. Pleasant by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad soon after passenger service was discontinued in 1949 on a branch line that began in Utah County, ran through Sanpete and Sevier counties and ended at Marysvale in Piute County.

The last trip was made on Aug. 27, 1949, and one of the last passengers was the late Howard Cox, who boarded the train at Manti and got off at Ephraim, seven miles away. The ticket stub was one of his prized possessions.

The last trip was very different from the first one on Dec. 29, 1890, when the train came rushing past Hill Top into the Sanpete Valley to be greeted by welcoming ceremonies at every town along the route. Bands played, crowds cheered, the whistle tooted, the bell rang and the train crew had their pictures taken with local celebrities, often bearded gentlemen with gold watch chains across their waist-coats.

A new era had come to central Utah: A lifeline had been established, and isolation had ended.

For years the town depot - the one in Mt. Pleasant and others along the way - became focal points in community life. People turned out to welcome the return of students from college, missionaries from faraway lands, soldiers from the nation's wars.

And for years rural children looked forward to riding the plush cars to Salt Lake City, staying overnight at the Newhouse or Grand hotel and spending a day at Lagoon or Saltair before boarding the train for the return to central Utah.

The train carried the mail, newspapers and magazines, goods ordered from mail-order catalogs and sometimes the dead coming home after a year or a lifetime away.

For 15 years after passenger service was stopped, the freight train continued in operation - its whistle sounding in the night at lonely crossings, its bell ringing as it passed through darkened towns.

It hauled away the area's products - coal, lumber, gypsum, cattle, sheep and wool, turkeys, cheese, canned peas and corn. It brought with it all sorts of manufactured goods. The last freight train passed through the Sanpete Valley on Dec. 13, 1964.

"It was like the end of the world - the passing of the railroad," said Howard Cox, that last passenger. "And there'll be a lot of regrets and lot of remembering."

The regrets because some say the loss of the train caused a decline in the rural economy. But restoring the old depot alongside U.S. 89 will most surely help keep memories alive.