Some of our most fun finds happen when we're on the road and looking for something else.
This was the case when we discovered this distinctive depot in South Lyon, Michigan recently while visiting some metroparks in Michigan's Oakland and Livingston Counties in search of fall color.
We were between parks when Tim spotted the depot's "witch hat" roof. We turned back around to take a look at the building and, as luck would have it, the volunteer docents for the museum housed at the depot arrived to open it for tours while we were there.
Settlers founded South Lyon in 1832 as Thompson's Corners, and the township surrounding the settlement soon became the namesake of a local state legislator named Lucius Lyon.
South Lyon became a busy railroad town during the latter half of the nineteenth century with several different lines operating from the community at one time or another.
In 1871, Detroit, Lansing and Northern built a line west from Plymouth and operating from a Pere Marquette depot at South Lyon and, by the late 1870s that line operated as part of a very extensive Pere Marquette system linking Lansing to Detroit.
South Lyon incorporated as a village in 1873. It became a city in 1930.
The village was a stop along the Ann Arbor Railroad line during the 1880s, but that route through town disappeared by the early 1890s.
In 1883, Grand Trunk established a route running from Jackson to Pontiac that ran through South Lyon.
The depot established by the DL &N during the 1870s burned to the ground in 1908, and the Grand Trunk Western system replaced it with a one-story Queen Anne-style structure with its distinctive rounded front and conical roof.
This depot style is relatively rare in Michigan, and it was one of only a few of this type that I remember ever seeing.
One online source guessed that noted architects of the early 1900s, Frederick H. Spier and William C. Rohns, designed the depot because they designed many notable buildings in the state that included railroad depots in Ann Arbor and Durand (and the Kelsey Museum of Archeology in Ann Arbor) that also sported conical roofs. I could not confirm this attribution elsewhere, though.
The wood-framed depot served as a passenger station until 1955.
The city of South Lyon acquired the depot in the mid-1970s, moving it in from a railroad trackside location on East Lake Street to McHattie Park about a half mile away 1976.
The depot became the Witch's Hat Depot Museum in 1981, serving as the focal point for an historical village developing around it.
Volunteers and local historians helped preserve the interior of the depot to resemble a turn-of-the-twentieth-century railroad station.
The historical village, a joint effort of the City of South Lyon, the South Lyon Area Historical Society and the South Lyon Historical Commission, grew over the years with the addition of a vintage-1926 Chesapeake & Ohio caboose (1982), a freight house (built in 1984 to compliment the depot and serve as additional meeting and museum space), the one-room Washburn School (a Green Oak Township built in 1907 and moved to the village in 1984)), the Little Village Chapel (a 1930s Sears kit-house moved to the village in 2001 from East Liberty Street) and a gazebo with a witch-hat roof (built in 1991).
We arrived at the depot around noon on a Sunday and wandered around the village taking pictures for about 30 minutes before noticing the arrival of the docents and seeing them begin to open the building.
We ended up spending another hour at the site touring the depot, its museum, the schoolhouse and the chapel.
These guys knew a lot about the historic buildings, the development of the historic village, railroads in the area and the history of South Lyon itself! We had a great time as they showed us a lot of the museum "toys" like models of the depot, a small model train mounted near the ceiling and ran around one of the rooms of the depot museum and a working early 1900s crank-powered record player.
The Depot Museum and accompanying buildings in the historic village generally open from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Thursdays and Sundays.
The village hosts many special events, and it is a favorite venue for small weddings.
Visitors can also arrange for special tours, teachers can bring their classes for a special day-long program at Washburn School where the kids experience an old-fashioned school day, complete with classes in the vintage one-room school and the opportunity to dress in period clothing.
Want to learn more about South Lyon's history? Check out South Lyon (Images of America) by Jennifer Redfern. This book features a photo of the Witch's Hat Depot on its cover and several pages with pictures of the building inside of the book.
© Dominique King 2014 All rights reserved