Move to save train depot gets on track once again CSX negotiates to 'convey' building

June 26, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The latest effort to save Hampstead's abandoned train depot is chugging along with an "I think I can" attitude.

Anyone who wants to climb aboard can attend a meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Town Hall.

Meanwhile, holes in the roof funnel in rain. The floor could fall through any time. The once-white paint has baked and flaked off the gray wood panels. The windows long have been boarded.

Still, this is one of the oldest and most historic buildings in Hampstead, and it is depicted in the town seal.

Many have tried to revive the decaying building before, including a committee of several former mayors, led by then-Councilwoman Jacqueline Hyatt. They gave up about two years ago when they weren't able to get CSX Transportation Inc. to sell the building, which they believe was built around 1899. CSX had required that the building be moved about 15 feet from the tracks.

Besides being expensive and cumbersome, the move would have diminished the meaning of the depot, Hyatt said.

"That was where everyone's historic memories of it were," said Hyatt, who thought the depot could be a museum, such as in Union Bridge. Sykesville's depot is home to Baldwin's Restaurant. Mount Airy and Westminster depots are stores.

But until Hampstead could buy the depot, Hyatt and her committee could go no further.

"You must own the building," she said. "That's the bottom line."

This time, the rail company is more willing to sell, said Kenneth Hankins, a teacher and potter who lives just outside town and is trying to form a new committee to save the depot. An offer from CSX should arrive at the Town Hall soon, Hankins said. The town won't have to move the depot, but probably will have to build a fence barrier to the track, he said.

"We are in active negotiations to convey the depot property to the town," said Jane Covington, a spokeswoman for CSX headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla. "Nothing has been finalized at this point. Safety is our No. 1 concern."

"Money is not the main issue here," Hankins said. "To them

[CSX], this is a liability. Someone's going to get hurt in here, or it's going to burn down."

The depot had been leased for storage to builders and the town, but it isn't fit for even that since the roof gave way a few years ago.

"I think they'd be very happy to say to Hampstead, 'It's your problem now,' " Hankins said. "And it would be a headache."

But worth every pang, he said. The depot was a vital link for rail service southeast to Baltimore, as well as other points.

"This is what kept the town alive for so many years," Hankins said. "The farmers had to get the fresh milk and produce to the markets in the city."

Trains haven't stopped in Hampstead for years, although a freight train goes by every morning and afternoon.

Hankins, 53, wistfully shakes his head at the thought of using the right of way for light rail linking Hampstead with the Metro in Owings Mills or to light rail in Lutherville. He teaches at St. Paul School in nearby Brooklandville.

But that's for later. Maybe his son's generation will do it, he said. For now, he wants to get the outside of the depot rebuilt and repainted, then maybe the floor replaced. He's approaching the project one step at a time, he said.

"Right now, I just want to preserve it," he said. "We're not talking about this looking brand new, or a Williamsburg restoration. We're talking about saving the train station, giving it a coat of paint. Maybe the next crazy person who comes along will do something more with it."

Hankins knows he can count on at least one committee member: his son, Matthew, 21, who is studying historical preservation at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va. "Because I grew up here, it's just a lifelong fascination with trains and the old building," Matthew said. "Just driving past it all the time, imagining what went on there."

The Hankins family has some idea. The family bought their 50-acre farm and house 30 years ago. The previous owner, known as Colonel Quinan, had lived there since 1921 and used to wake in the morning to milk cows, then drive the milk in a horse-drawn wagon to the depot. He would put the milk onto the train, as many dairy farmers did. Unlike most farmers, however, he'd leave his horse in the livery in Hampstead and ride in the passenger section of the train to his job as a high school teacher in Baltimore.

Pub Date: 6/26/96

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