The Pere Marquette Train Depot was built in 1907 to replace one that despite the efforts of a bucket brigade burned to the ground in 1906. Once known as “the finest depot on the line north of Grand Rapids” it was the center of activity in Alden. More ticket were sold with a destination of Alden than any other spot along the line. With trains arriving daily a favorite evening pastime in Alden was to go down to the depot and watch as passengers headed to one of the areas many summer camps dis- embarked from the “Resort Special”.
The depot was closed in the early sixties. It would have stood abandoned waiting to be vandalized and it might not be in existence today had it not been for a group of six Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad workers living in the Detroit area who worked out an agreement with the railroad in 1962 to lease the building for about two hundred and fifty dollars a year and use it as a vacation retreat. Part of the agreement called for the men to paint the exterior of the building with paint supplied by the railroad. They were allowed to make whatever changes were necessary on the inside to make it livable.
They named their new vacation spot “Chessie’s Pause” after the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad logo which features a sleeping cat named “Chessie”. According to Jeannie Boyd one of the original couples who spent summer vacations at Cfhessie’s Pause, each family took a turn staying there. Since the families had small children and trains were still running along the tracks just outside of the depot, the first thing they did was to make a play yard complete with sandbox by enclosing the portico with a picket fence and installing locks on the gates.
The ticket office was turned into a kitchen. Bunks were set up in the baggage room. The passenger’s waiting room became the living room. Two bathrooms were situated in the southwest corner of the room and a 12x12 area was partitioned off for a bedroom. Today this section houses the museum.
The freight room (today’s train room) had a ping pong table in it and was used as a game room. The walls of this room had names painted by students from an earlier era written on them. Chessie members added their names in chalk and every visitor to the retreat did so as well. Every time Jeannie’s mother in law came to visit she would write, “Helen was here” and add the date.
Putting a penny on the railroad track and ending up with a flat piece of copper after the train had passed over it was something everyone had to try.” She recalls, “One day we simply flagged down a passing passenger train, hopped aboard, paid the conductor and went to Petoskey for the day then returned on the train that night.” There were times when people must have thought the building was still open to the public. Like the time two girls walked right in, used the bathroom then left without saying a word or the time someone walked in wanting to buy a ticket.
After about fifteen years the railroad no longer renewed the lease and placed the depot up for sale and the tenants could not afford ot purchase the building. The depot sat vacant for several years then in 1986 the railroad agreed to sell the depot to Helena Township for two hundred thousand dollars. Alfred Hoadley was township supervisor at the time and he wrote and applied for a grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund with the purpose of using the depot as a bathhouse. Once the grant was approved, Helena Township had to fulfill a grant requirement that 10 percent “seed money” be provided by the township. The township sold the building once used as the township hall and library (now the 45th. Parallel) for $20,000 to raise the money.
Two additional grants, one from the DNR for thirty thousand dollars and another for the same amount from the Traverse City Rotary provided the working capital for work to begin on the depot. As restoration began a set of the depot’s original plans were found in the rafters and this discovery enabled the building to be restored to its original design.
When the depot was recently designated a “State of Michigan Historical Site” Jeannie says, “I just had to come! I have wonderful memories of this place and of the wonderful times we spent here.”