History of old rail depot

CHAMPAIGN — Champaign city historian Dannel McCollum said the former railroad depot that's slated to house Black Dog Smoke & Ale House originally stood 140 feet south of where it is now.

That site is now occupied by the grander train station that succeeded it in 1924.

McCollum said the original train station in Champaign was the Doane House, a four-story frame building on the east side of the tracks, just north of where Main Street would be if it continued east from Chestnut Street.

The Doane House burned in 1898, and the ticket office and waiting room were temporarily moved to the train master's building, also on the east side of the tracks.

A new depot was constructed about 1899 on the west side of the tracks. In the mid-1920s, the Illinois Central Railroad raised the elevation of the tracks in Champaign, and as part of that project, it relocated the 1899 depot, putting it on rails and pulling it north 140 feet.

"I've heard it suggested that they moved the station only a matter of feet each day, and that it continued to be an operational train station as it moved," McCollum said.

After the move and the opening of the new station, the old depot became the office for the Railway Express Agency, which handled packages and parcels transported by rail.

The forerunner of that agency was established by the U.S. government in 1917, and Railway Express continued to operate nationally for the next half-century or so.

McCollum said he's excited about the depot renovation.

"What really delights me about this development is, if it's popular enough and if they expand on the railway theme, it might spark redevelopment of that (whole railroad) area, including the old freight house, which I think would be absolutely fantastic," he said.

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