NILES, MI
Niles Depot w/ Amtrak Train, July 2004
Niles, MI; July 2004

This massive Romanesque style sandstone depot was built by the Michigan Central Railroad in 1892. More than a shelter for local customers, it was built to project an image of strength and security to the patrons of the New York Central's "Niagara Falls Route", its first New York- Chicago through route. Besides the depot itself, there were elaborate gardens and even a greenhouse, maintained by the railroad to supply flowers for the railroad's dining cars.

The Detroit architectural firm of Spier and Rohns designed the Michigan Central's showpiece in Niles. It featured a waiting room , with a fireplace, in the rounded west end , a smoking room in the center of the building, and a dining room/lunch counter in the east end. A 44' x 25' wing, streetside of the dining room, contained the kitchen on the first floor and an apartment for the restaurant manager on the second floor. A small separate building 50 feet toward the east was for baggage and express.

Architect's Floor Plan of Niles Depot


The track side facade is dominated by a massive gable end and the soaring tower, a combination of elements that was such a success that a few years later, it was repeated on St. Andrews Church, in Windsor, Ontario, built in 1896.

The depots good looks have earned it appearances in at least three movies, The Continental Divide, Midnight Run, and Only the Lonely. In one scene of Only the Lonely, the Niles depot was decorated with Christmas lights. This was the beginning of the tradition of decorating the depot for Christmas.

Track Side, Niles Depot, October 1998
Niles Depot, October 1998

Clock Tower at Niles
68' tall clock tower with working clock.
Door at base of tower led to ticket office on the left
and spiral stairs up to the operators room.

East End of Waiting Room
Waiting Room, east end

The depot is owned by Amtrak and is a stop for eight trains a day, on the Detroit-Chicago route. In the late 1980's Amtrak and Michigan Dept. of Transportation funded a major restoration. Over 100 years after it was built, the station still serves its main purpose.

Only the waiting room and women's toilet are still used for their original purposes. The Amtrak ticket office is in what used to be the Smoking Room. The room that was the ticket office is now the men's toilet. The dining room and kitchen are long gone, but all the rooms of the depot are in use.

Amtrak owns the tracks between Kalamazoo and Porter, IN and is responsible for maintaining and upgrading the tracks and the signal systems. The dining room is now used by Amtrak engineering offices. The kitchen is full of electronics for the signal systems. The second floor operators room is now used by engineers working on the new high speed signal system, which will allow trains to run 100 MPH. Additional signal department offices are in the baggage building So it remains very much a railroad building.

For information on Amtrak services available at the depot, see Amtrak's Niles page.

Rounded, west end of Waiting Room, July 2004
Waiting room, west end

Postcard View of Train at Depot
Postcard View of Michigan Central Train stopped in Niles

March 1998, Updated December 2004
Louis Van Winkle
E-mail questions or comments to louisvw@mc.net

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