LINCOLN — As a youth growing up on the north side of Lincoln, Bill Gossett spent a lot of time in the Lincoln Depot.
“I had a paper route for The Pantagraph,” he said. “At 4:30 or 5 in the morning, the train would bring the papers south from Bloomington. The paper carriers would unload them off of the baggage car, fold them and deliver them.”
Gossett, now 94, was among an estimated 200 people who attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday to celebrate renovations to the station in downtown Lincoln. The depot was built in 1911.
“I spent a lot of time here as a youth and had some great laughs in here,” he said. "It's beautiful. It really looks great."
The $4.04 million remodeled facility is part of a multi-year project that showcases restored windows, doors and the original ticket counter with a scale once used to weigh luggage. New features include free Wi-Fi, a climate-controlled waiting room with interior seating, and parking for both vehicles and bikes. The waiting area replaces a passenger shelter to the north that served Amtrak’s Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle.
As a child, Mayor Seth Goodman also remembers going to the depot, which by then had been turned into a restaurant. Most of the building at 101 N. Chicago St. was closed to the public in 1972, but was sold and renovated in 1977 and named The Depot restaurant. The restaurant and catering hall was last known as McCarty’s at the Depot, closing in 2013.
“We would sit in the train car and eat our dinner,” Goodman said. “It was dark and it was cool, but it is nothing like it is today. It has changed quite a bit.”
Two old Illinois Central Railroad passenger cars and two cabooses were removed from the property in 2015. The north freight building was renovated as the passenger rail station for Amtrak patrons.
“To see this completed is fantastic and it is great for Lincoln and the downtown district,” Goodman said. “It means a lot to people and it shows, because so many people showed up. I’m actually shocked to see this many here, but I am thrilled at the same time.”
In addition to the renovation of the freight building, everything else is new, including the parking lots, sidewalks, lighting and landscaping. The shelter sits on a platform near where Abraham Lincoln christened the city in 1853.
Most of the funding for the Lincoln project came from a federal grant administered by IDOT to introduce better performance and higher speeds on the Union Pacific Railroad between Chicago and St. Louis.
City officials have been working with Illinois Department of Transportation officials for several years on the project, including former Mayor Keith Snyder, who began working with transportation officials in 2011.
“This is something very, very special,” IDOT Secretary Randy Blankenhorn said. “It is a major milestone for the state because this is the fourth station to re-open, following Dwight, Pontiac and Alton. Approximately 22,000 visitors per year will use this station and I think when they walk in, they will see history. They will see what was and what is. I think that is what we all tried to do as a part of this project.”
Carrie Desmond, an engineer with WSP USA of New York, led the design team that developed the renovations.
“I remember meeting with residents who told stories of their children being married here,” she said. “There were others that promised that building a platform would cause havoc in the downtown area. We worked through all of those and I am so proud of what this team has accomplished. We have done something truly great here. It is a once-in-a-century opportunity.”