A 119-year-old structure took a tour of Douglas County on Wednesday, June 26.
The Blueberry Depot, built in 1900, was trucked from private land along Blueberry Road to the Davidson Windmill site in Lakeside. Woodhull Building Movers got the centenarian moved in about two hours, with no surprises.
Brian Paulson with the Old-Brule Heritage Society said despite the building’s age, it’s solid. The depot will remain on its mobile platform until a foundation can be poured, but some restoration work can take place before it’s permanently installed.
First up is replacing the masonry chimney. Future projects include replacing the metal roof with period cedar shakes and pulling off the added siding to expose the original wood.
Once it’s in place, Paulson envisions adding a wood or cinder block platform and about 60 feet of old track out front to give it the same appearance it had when it was a functioning depot.
The Lakeside property is already home to the Davidson Windmill, which is original to the site, the Eskolin log house, which was trucked in from northeast of Maple, and Taylor’s Bridge, which once spanned the Middle River on Bayfield Road in the town of Amnicon.
Adding the depot makes sense, Paulson said. When the Northern Pacific Railroad built the Ashland Line from Superior’s east end to Ashland in 1883-85, they changed the face of the countryside.
“The railroad and their depots drew in settlers to the area, so they were really vital at the time,” Paulson said.
In addition to enticing people to the area, depots served as the original heart of communities like Poplar, Maple and Blueberry.
“Before they could build their store, church, post office or any facility such as that, the depot served that purpose,” Paulson said. “It was a railroad depot, but I know for sure in Poplar for the first two years, school classes were held in the depot in Poplar. I’m not sure if that was the case with this depot.”
It was common for a depot to serve as store, place of worship, school and information hub as communities grew around it.
“Not only in Blueberry, but just about every rural community,” Paulson said.
This depot’s travels began with a phone call to the Old Brule Heritage Society.
“The owners called organization president Dennis Hill and offered the building to us, contingent on us moving it off their property,” Paulson said.
They looked it over, found it was solid, and agreed. But the move didn’t take place for nearly two years. Paulson said it took that long for the society to swap land acre-for-acre with the state in order to fit the depot onto the property.
When the foundation is poured for the depot, a second foundation will be poured for a Finnish log sauna, another gift which will travel to the site from a nearby Lakeside property. Paulson said the foundations could be laid and buildings installed by late summer.
The society has raised about two-thirds of the estimated $29,000 cost of moving and restoring the depot. Donations are still being accepted, and volunteers are needed to help with the work. The nonprofit group is also seeking railroad artifacts like switch lanterns and baggage carts to add to the building.
The Old-Brule Heritage Society offers free monthly tours of the Davidson Windmill and Eskolin Log House. Upcoming tours take place 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 20, Aug. 17 and Sept. 21.
The day before the Blueberry depot moved to Lakeside, the nearby Blueberry Store was razed.
“Ethel’s store is gone, that’s how I refer to it, Ethel’s store,” Paulson said. “It was a fixture in the area. For sure.”
It was only chance that kept the depot, which is 15 years older, from a similar fate. Decades ago, a man turned the depot into his residence and added the metal roof. If he hadn’t, Paulson said, “the building would be sitting in a pile of rubble now.
"That’s just how fate comes into play with a lot of these old buildings," he said.
Donations are welcome at OBHS-Depot Fund, P.O. Box 24, Maple, WI 54854.