Canadian Pacific Freight passing Watervliet Depot
Watervliet, MI Depot, April 1998

The Chicago & Michigan Lakeshore Railroad was founded in 1869, to build a railroad from St. Joseph, Michigan to the Indiana state line. Before any track was in operation, the C&MLS acquired the Lake Shore Railroad of Western Michigan. It was chartered to build from St. Joseph to Muskegon, but also had no track in operation. The first stretch of track, from St. Joseph to New Buffalo, was opened in 1870.

At this time, there was a large sawmill in Watervliet. Swain, Olney and Company employed about 40 men and could saw thirty thousand feet of lumber a day. They very much wanted the railroad to run through Watervliet, likely so that the mill could ship lumber to the Chicago market. The mill offered $2,000 in cash and another $2,000 in lumber, building materials and labor, as well as the land, for the construction of a depot in Watervliet to the railroad, if its line was built from St. Joseph, through Watervliet, and on to Hartford. Watervliet was about 10 miles off the shortest route north. But with the $4,000 incentive, and the fact that the railroad wanted the freight traffic, the railroad went to Watervliet, reaching the town in 1870.

The Watervliet depot was most likely built in 1870 or 1871. A paper on the "Watervliet RR Depot Timeline" by Charles Kratz, states that an 1873 plat map shows a depot. It does not mention any replacement depot being built at a later date.

The railroad continued building north. In 1871 the C&MLS acquired two more railroads, Grand Rapids and Holland Railroad, and the Montague, Pentwater and Manistee. With these acquisitions, the C&MLS was able to complete their line from new Buffalo to Pentwater, and a branch to Grand Rapids by 1872. That same year they acquired the Muskegon and Big Rapids. In just a few years the C&MLS had built a railroad covering most of west Michigan. This must have left the railroad with a huge debt. In 1878 the C&MLS was sold at foreclosure and reorganized as the Chicago & West Michigan. In 1881, the C&WM bought a line running from Grand Rapids north to White Cloud. The line was extended north to Traverse City, and completed farther north to Bay View 1892.

The C&MLS and later the C&WM must have really liked the design used on the Watervliet depot. The horizontal siding, with scalloped vertical siding in the gable ends, "stick style" gable braces, and distinctive, 5-stick roof braces, all combine to make an attractive building. These depots were built all over west Michigan. The paper by Kratz mentions similar depots in Hart, Rapid City, Remus, Bellaire, Bay Shore, Barryton and Grawn. Other examples existed in New Richmond, Casnovia, Sparta, Newaygo, Central Lake and Grandville.

The C&WM was merged into the Pere Marquette system in 1899. The Pere Marquette rebuilt the route through Watervliet as a heavy-duty mainline between Detroit, Grand Rapids and Chicago. The C&O took over the Pere Marquette in 1947. Passenger service lasted right up to 1971 when Amtrak relieved the C&O of all passenger train responsibility, but by 1958 Watervliet had been downgraded to a flagstop.

The depot is in use as a CSX track maintenance center. The building is kept up very nicely for a railroad owned station. Tracks are quite busy with CSX trains, CP run-through trains, and two Amtrak trains daily. Amtrak service was reinstated in 1984 but Watervliet is not a stop.

Watervliet Depot, West End October 2003
West End

Track Side, October 2003
Track Side

Street Side
Street Side

Postcard View of Watervliet Depot
Old Postcard View of Watervliet Depot

June 1998, Updated Nov. 2003
Louis Van Winkle
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