January 16, 2017

The Battle Creek Grand Trunk Depot

July 2012


"Beyond question, the finest railroad in central Michigan. Others may, and do excel it in size, but not in artistic beauty." -Battle Creek Daily Journal, 1907

Sitting along the railroad tracks off Main Street sits one of Battle Creek’s architectural treasures, the Battle Creek Grand Trunk Depot; a visual time capsule from an era when the only way to travel great distances in comfort was by locomotive. Although trains no longer stop at the depot, the bustle of activity inside continues, as the building has served as Community Action’s main office since 1988.

Built in 1906 at a cost of $100,000, or roughly $2.5 million today, the Grand Trunk Depot symbolized Battle Creek’s turn-of-the-century prosperity and was hailed as “one of the most elaborate and finely finished depots in the country,” by the Battle Creek Daily Journal.

Designed by the Detroit architectural firm of Spier and Rohns, the Grand Trunk Depot is an interesting mix of architectural styles. The outer building has many Dutch features, including battlements and parapet walls (low, protective wall along the edge of the roof with indentations for defense). The gutters were designed to look like cannons extending from the parapet walls. The roof of the depot has strong Spanish influence, being covered in 1,200 red ceramic roof tiles. The depot’s two towers originally stood as Hindu style domes, much like the ones on the backside of the building. And on the grounds of the depot were many beautiful floral gardens, maintained by Olaf Jensen until his retirement in 1954.

Inside the depot’s lobby, with its vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows, were dark blue walls, studded with renaissance ornaments of gold and cream. The columns in the lobby were delicately painted to look just like marble, called faux-marble. And on the floor, stretching though the entire building was hand laid tiles of venetian red, dark green, and cream.  One of the building’s interior features that still remain is the beautiful quarter-sawn oak entry doors and staircases. The original depot also featured a dining room for passengers, decorated in a modern German style, with a light green ceiling and ornamentations in dark green and orange, and Pomeranian red walls.

In 1907, the Battle Creek Grand Trunk Depot began its passenger services. The depot continued to operate until 1971, when Grand Trunk Western Railroad handed its passenger services over to the newly formed Amtrak. In 1988, through a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Community Action purchased the depot and began renovations to make it suitable for office space while maintaining its historical integrity.

A mezzanine area was built to utilize the vaulted ceiling space in the lobby, partitions were removed, walls were restored, and extensive plaster repair work was done. The old dining area, somewhere in history having been bricked in, had the windows recreated and existing wainscoting pieced together to create a new boardroom. Amazingly, the original Illinois glass manufacturer of the stained glass windows was still in business, and contracted to do the restoration work on the many broken or painted over stained glass windows. Michigan Woodworking was brought in to repair and replace damaged oak wainscoting and windows in the Depot, maintaining the historical appearance of the Depots interior.  An elevator was also added to comply with handicap accessibility requirements.  Only the attic and the basement remain in much the same way they did in 1906, aside from minor modern upgrades.

Since the Depot first opened over 100 years ago, the building has withstood all of the interesting weather Michigan has to offer - until a severe storm in May 2011.

After that storm, we found out that every single tile on the roof would need to be replaced. The roof also needs to be re-decked to repair rotten planks and a rubber membrane installed to insulate and protect the roof.

We began work on the roof, but have run into additional areas needing repair.

We are asking for your help to ensure that this building lasts into perpetuity. The Depot is not only aesthetically pleasing, but acts as a gateway to the Post-Franklin neighborhood and a symbol to the spirit of Battle Creek.

Please take a moment to donate to our building fund now (select "unspecified" under Donation Area and "unrestricted" under Donate To).

Over a century after the Battle Creek Grand Trunk Depot was constructed, long after the last passengers arrived, the depot, and its dedicated Community Action staff, continue to serve the community.