Members of the Lonoke Area Chamber of Commerce, guests, elected officials and others filled the Lonoke Depot for the Nov. 1 Chamber meeting and celebration of the Depot’s 100th anniversary.
The Depot’s history was chronicled in a video by the Middle School EAST Lab. Ryker said the presentation covered a timeline that began in 1900, through the construction, use, near abandonment and eventual restoration to its present status of a symbol of Lonoke.
"You have a ticket to ride the Rock Island Line … For train lovers, this is heaven," he said of the video.
The video traced the background of the depot from the beginnings of the Rock Island Railroad in Illinois, and its spread throughout the central and western U.S. and eventual establishment of rail service through Arkansas, and Lonoke County, between Memphis and Little Rock.
Efforts to bring a Rock Island depot to Lonoke began in 1910. By 1912, railroad officials agreed to build the depot; in May 1912 the work began.
Initial estimates of $15,000 to build the depot grew to $25,000. Lonoke Democrat accounts reported that the contractor, T.B. Davis, promised the depot would be of the latest modern design, with all the latest improvements.
About May 9, 1912, work began with the excavations for the foundation and heating plant.
The building would be made of pressed brick and fireproof materials, "and will have every convenience that goes to make up one of the best buildings on the line."
The building and platforms would face north, with a platform extending the length of the building.
Opening of the building was on Oct. 31, 1912, after a delay because of non-delivery of the doors and windows.
The depot became the center of Lonoke’s business and travel. But the end of passenger service and the end of freight trains in the 1970s led to the closing of the once important part of the community.
The depot fell into disrepair and was facing demolition when the Lonoke Historical Society began efforts to restore it. The success of the work was marked in October 1984 when the Depot was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
For a short time it served as city hall, before the Lonoke Chamber of Commerce became the sole occupant. It still serves as a center of community life as a meeting site for public and private events.
Missy Swaim, director of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, and a resident of Lonoke, detailed the work of the Lonoke Historical Society in its efforts to save the depot. The Depot was one of the AHPP earliest listings in the National Register, she said.
Having lived only blocks from the Depot, Swaim said she remembers the trains and the people of the railroad using the building.
"So many towns have lost their depots. We are so, so fortunate to have it today," Swaim said.
Buildings such as the Depot were much better built than modern buildings, and because of that several more generations can expect to enjoy having it, Swaim said.
"Think about the politicians that have come through here. Think about when the trains would come through here and people would give their speeches from the back of the train," Swaim said. "This is where it was happening," she said.
Saving the Depot was joint effort of the entire community, Swaim recalled. Grants, matching funds, private donations all combined to restore the building.
The Depot would have been lost if not for the women of the Lonoke Historical Society, Swaim remarked.
Ryker recalled that some merchants of the "Wanted to take a wrecking ball and crash [the Depot]." He also pointed out plaques throughout the old waiting room, now the meeting room, that mark significant times of the restoration of the Depot.
Former state Senator Bobby Glover, standing in for state Senator Eddie Joe Williams, presented a State Senate Citation marking the Depot’s 100th Anniversary, and those who worked to restore it. "There were so many people involved in this," he said.
The Historical Society, the City of Lonoke, the citizens of Lonoke, Remington Arms, and the Chamber of Commerce, Glover said.
Glover said he, too, remembers the Depot when it was the center of city life. "I remember the freight trains, passenger trains, the Dinky," he said.
The "Dinky," Glove recalled, was the mail train, "It would shoot through here about 80 miles an hour."
State Representative Walls McCrary presented a House of Representatives citation also acknowledging the work in saving, restoring and maintaining the Depot as a Lonoke historic site.
McCrary recalled riding one of the last passenger trains from Lonoke when he and his future wife, Emma, as members of the Lonoke High School Class of 1961 traveled to Washington, D.C. for the class trip.
"I remember coming over here and picking up freight and carrying it back across the street," McCrary said his former store.
Mayor Wayne McGee issued a proclamation the work of the Lonoke Historical Society in restoring the Depot, and making Oct. 31, 2012 the Centennial Celebration of the Lonoke Depot.
EAST Lab students who made the Depot video are Colton Tidwell, Hannah Abshure, Mary Katherine Sumner, and Graceleigh Wright.
In regular business, the board voted to accept a new member to the Chamber and heard the FBLA report presented by vice president Erica Brewer and secretary Grant Dewey.
Dewey said the FBLA chapter conducted a "Miracle Minute" the high school football game halftime. The loose change that was collected is for the Arkansas Children’s Hospital.
Plans are made for members to help with the Lonoke Chamber’s MerryThanks in November.
On Nov. 15 FBLA members will participate in a leadership and entrepreneurship workshop, learning about creating businesses, small business ownership and financial planning.