Michigan Central Railroad, Dexter Depot

3487 Broad at the northwest corner of Broad and Third, Dexter

The first European settlers in the area near Dexter were migrants from New York State who arrived in 1825 to establish farms. Judge Samuel Dexter purchased 12 acres for a homestead in this area, and in 1827, called a town meeting.  I presume he played a key role in establishing a local government, and by 1832, Dexter Township included the western one-half of Washtenaw County.

The state’s first governor, Steven Mason, strongly promoted internal developments.  One of his key aims was to build several rail lines across the state.  The line that became the Michigan Central extended west from Detroit, reaching Dexter in 1841.  There were great financial problems in building the railroad across the state and the state assumed ownership in the mid-1840s, only to find out that it was very poorly constructed.  Construction continued, and by 1855, Detroit and Chicago were linked by rail.  Residents of many small villages such as Dexter could, for the first time, travel to Detroit and points beyond quite easily and rapidly.  Equally important, farm products could be shipped to national markets and goods produced through the settled United States could be shipped into Dexter.

The structure pictured above was built rapidly in the winter of 1886-87.  It was designed by Michigan’s most productive railroad deport architect, Frederick H. Spear.  The well-known Grand Trunk Western "Witch Hat” depot in South Lyon is one of creations. The Michigan Central Railroad, which was incorporated into the New York Central line, used this station for passenger service into the early 1950s.  In 1950, two west bound trains and one east bound stopped in Dexter every day, but shortly thereafter, service ended.  Amtrak, for a brief period in the late 1970s and early 1980s, ran one commuter train each day from Jackson to Detroit and return.  That train stopped at this station so that passengers could embark or disembark.  Commuter train service from Ann Arbor to Detroit is scheduled to resume in October, 2010.  At this point, there is no discussion of extending those trains west to Jackson. However, it is possible that some future governor of this state will share Governor Steven Mason’s belief about the importance of rail service as a key component of Michigan’s infrastructure.  Passengers trains have passed through Dexter for 169 years.  Perhaps they will once again stop at this appealing station.

There is one other remote link between this depot and the transcontinental railroad that linked the Atlantic and Pacific shores on May 10, 1869.  Samuel Dexter was born in Boston in 1702, but migrated to Michigan where he served as a district judge, and in 1831, was Michigan territory’s representative in Congress.  In 1829, he and John Allen established the first newspaper in Ann Arbor, The Western Emmigrant.  In 1831, that newspaper called for the building of a cross country railroad.  Thus, the idea for a transcontinental railroad originated in Ann Arbor with the help of Judge Samuel Dexter. He lived to see President Abraham Lincoln commit federal resources, but did not live to see its completion since he died in 1863.

Architect: Frederick H. Spear
Architectural style: Victorian
Date of construction: From November 6, 1886 to January 19, 1887
Use in 2009:  Well maintained historical location
Book describing development of railroads in Michigan:
Willis Frederick. Dunbar, All Aboard!  A History of Railroads in Michigan.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: P24,993  Listed: April 10, 1986
State of Michigan Historical Marker: Put in place July 20, 1987
National Register of Historic Sites; Not listed
Photograph: Ren Farley; July, 2009
Description prepared: September, 2009

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