Historic Preservation Committee holds dinner as historic trains visit Evanston

People enjoy dinner and a presentation during an Evanston event in May. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

The Evanston Preservation Commission held an invitation-only social gathering and dinner catered by Main Street Deli at the Machine Shop on Wednesday, May 8thto honor those people who have contributed to the preservation of Evanston’s history.

Commission Chair Jim Davis began the formal presentations by asking former and current Commission members to stand for applause.  Past members are Sandy Ottley, Joe Cox, Austin Moon and Debbie Liechty.  Current members are Margaret Lester, Shelly Horne, Tim Sehorn, Tom Farrens, and Rowdy Dean.

“In 1992 when Dennis Ottley was Mayor a city ordinance was passed to establish the Historic Preservation Commission to coordinate with other government agencies to seek funds for preservation of historic buildings.  Commissioners are appointed by the mayor and serve a three year term or in some cases, a life sentence.” Davis laughed and added, “In 1993 the Commission became a Certified Local Government Program within the State of Wyoming.  This enables us to qualify for small federal grants and also provides for formal preservation training and networking. Our current project is to obtain the Wasatch water tank and bring it to the Roundhouse and Railyards. The proceeds from the silent auction tonight will provide funds for our water tank project.”

Davis then introduced the keynote speaker, Marty Westland from Bozeman, Montana, a railroad enthusiast and mechanical engineer who helps to rebuild old locomotives.

Westland said he became interested in the Evanston Railyards when his friend Joel Jensen showed him some old photos and research he had done on the Evanston Reclamation Plant. When Westland heard about the renovations being done at the railyards he wanted to come see them.  Jim Davis took him on a tour of the roundhouse and machine shop.

“I was amazed. The preservation being done on the railyards is impressive and inspirational.  I was stuck by the magnitude of this facility,” Westland said.

Westland said after his visit he did a little research on the Evanston railyards.  He said he realized that Evanston came into being because of the railroad and the building of the shops and roundhouse.  In 1926, when Union Pacific decided they didn’t need the shops any longer Westland said that city leaders had asked U.P. if they could turn the buildings into a reclamation facility.  They did and it was in operation for 40 years.  And when the reclamation was closing, city leaders were wise once again and decided to negotiate with U.P. in order to save the buildings.

“Why should we save old buildings? What case should we make for preservation?” Westland asked.

Westland went on to talk about the building of the transcontinental railroad and how it was one of the greatest visions of the United States.  The railroad is more than the locomotive, it is an entire collection of shops, bridges, tracks, engines, workers and more, Westland said. He said the workers must have had a small understanding of the significance of what they were building for the future of the country. They must have known they were involved in something much larger than themselves, Westland said.

“The transcontinental railroad was a grand creation – an on-going part of the growth of our society. This roundhouse and railyard is a reminder of the potential of our society to achieve truly impressive goals. Why preserve?  Old buildings and museums are also reminders of our past achievements and what we can still achieve in our society,” Westland said.

Westland told a story about a community in California near the Carson and Colorado railway.  Businesses, organizations, and community volunteer worked together for six years to save an old steam locomotive.  He said cash contributions to the local economy were generated because of the project.  Hotels, restaurants, and grocery stores all benefited from the influx of workers for the restoration project. 

“Everyone can play a role in a preservation project and contribute to something great.  Preserving history helps to define the future, builds community, and develops a sense of belonging; which is the ultimate goal. I would like to thank everyone here for your part in working towards that goal,” Westland said.

Jim Davis then presented Westland with a gift from the Evanston Preservation Commission.

Commission member Shelly Horne was next to present a preservation award to Kay Rossiter, director of the Uinta County Museum. 

“Kay is a good friend of mine and she has played a pivotal role in preserving local history with her establishment of the museum’s brown bag lunch series that features speakers on historical subjects. I call Kay the Brown Bag Lady who serves lunch with a side of history,” Horne said and gave Rossiter her award.

Rossiter thanked the Commission and said, “History is fun in this town because so many contribute.  It is a great place to be.”

Margaret Lester then asked Steve Stonebraker and Alan Mitchell to come up and receive a preservation award for their volunteer work restoring the Presbyterian Church sanctuary. 

Lester said, “These two have spent countless hours repairing interior walls, woodwork, lowering a floor for better accommodation, and restoring and stabilizing the stained glass windows.  It is beautiful what they have done.”

Mitchell said, “Thank you and by the way, the stain glass is pretty on the outside but even more beautiful when you come inside.”

Stonebraker added his thank you and added, “Come by and see the work anytime. Just call one of us.”

Next the audience was treated to a slide presentation of Joel Jensen’s photos of trains and related subjects.  Commission member Tim Sehorn said he was pleased to be able to give recognition and a preservation award to Jensen for his research and first rate photography of anything railroad.

“I’ve taken pictures of railroads and trains all over the country and there is nothing like Evanston’s railyards and buildings. Thank you.” Jensen said.

Mayor Kent Williams was then asked to present a tribute to the Bon French family for their gracious contribution towards the roundhouse doors and windows construction project.

“One neat thing I have had the privilege of doing as Mayor is to attend events where someone is honored for making a difference in the community and in the country; typically in regards to military or the railroad.  I have a confession to make.  As Mayor the first thing I think about is the cost as it relates to our community, what is this idea going to cost, what is the impact on the community and can we afford it?  I have come to realize, because of all of you, the greater benefit this heritage gives to us.  I know that when that big engine rolled into town the hair stood up on the back of my neck and I got shivers.  That engine was a neat bit of heritage.  I appreciate the Commission for giving me and the City the opportunity to recognize this fine individual and his family.  He is a gracious man,” Williams said. “French first came to Evanston in 2015 and Jim Davis took him on a tour of the railyards, roundhouse and machine shop. French has a home in Illinois and one in Park City, Utah.  He is a big railroad fan and is chairman of the Society for Railroad Photography Art. The Society is a non-profit organization which preserves significant images of railroad history, interprets and exhibits them live and on the Internet.” 

Bon French came forward to accept the award and said, “I want you to know that Joel Jensen’s photos will be presented to the Society.  Two years ago when I found out that someone had broken windows at the roundhouse I decided to give a donation for new windows and doors. I did not expect any recognition for my gift, but thank you very much.”

Mayor Williams stated that he was becoming more and more a convert to preservation and added, “Pending financing and logistics, we will bring our own steam engine from the North Evanston Park back to the Roundhouse.”

This brought cheers from the audience.  Jim Davis and the Preservation Commission gave Bon French a gift of a piece of rail laid in Echo Canyon in 1874.

Davis then thanked all the volunteers who helped to make the evening successful.  He especially thanked Russ Heward and his team for maintaining and taking care of the railyard buildings for the past 16 years.

“In many ways we have been blessed with our local history.  We are unique and it’s our uniqueness that presents a bright future.   Our uniqueness is defined by our railroad history, this place, Depot Square, our 1900 Depot, our Carnegie Library and Museum, our river walk, historic ice ponds, our downtown, our Strand, our county complex, our Doughboy statue, our Joss House, our dig site, our State Hospital, our Lincoln highway, our proximity to the immigrant trails, and our local stories. All of you that are here tonight have helped to preserve these special places. Please stand and applaud your contributions. Thank you.” Davis concluded.

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