Standish Depot, Michigan Central Railroad

107 North Main Street, Standish


By 1870, it was becoming clear to prosperous Michigan residents that the state had a bright industrial future.  The Civil War was a key turning point since there was a great demand for munitions and other products that could be made in Michigan.  And then it became obvious, that much of the Lower Peninsula was covered by white pine forest.  If a person or firm could cut those trees, mill the wood into useful lumber and ship that product to manufacturers, a fortune could be made.  At that time, wood was much more extensively used in construction and manufacturing than at present.

By the 1860s, the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern, the Michigan Central Railroad and the Grand Trunk Western spanned the state from Toledo, Detroit and Port Huron to Chicago and Lake Michigan ports including New Buffalo, Grand Haven and Muskegon.   A variety of rail lines sought to profit from the business that would be generated by tapping the great pine forests of the upper half of the Lower Peninsula.  All of them faced a problem raising capital to built north-south lines in Michigan.   Eventually, the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad—affiliated at various times with the Pennsylvania Railroad—built a line from Richmond, Indiana through Fort Wayne,  Kalamazoo, and Grand Rapids and on to Mackinac City with a branch to the port of Muskegon.

Along the sunrise coast, the Detroit and Mackinac Railroad eventfully assembled a line from Bay City to Cheboygan.  Near the Sunset Coast of Michigan, a variety of rail lines eventually assembled a collection of lines leading from Chicago through Holland and Grand Rapids and then on to Traverse City, a rail system that became part of Michigan’s Pere Marquette Railroad around 1900.  And Thomas Ashley and his collaborators were eventually able to build a line from Toledo to Frankfort and its port, Elbert.  This was the last of the rail lines in a north-south direction across the Wolverine State.

The Michigan Central, a key segment of a Chicago to New York rail system,  and the Grand Trunk Western that stretched from Portland, Maine to the Midwest through Canada were the dominate rail lines in Michigan in 1870.   Both of those companies built or purchased branch lines to increase their control of freight and passenger traffic in the state.  The Michigan Central began building a line directly north from Detroit toward the Straits of Mackinac in about 1870.  By 1871, they reached the growing industrial center of Saginaw and, two years later, the Saginaw Bay port of Bay City. They continued building their line more or less directly to the north, passing through Grayling and Gaylord, reaching Cheboygan and then, with a slight turn to the West, their lines reached Mackinac City in December, 1881.  The Grand Rapids and Indiana completed their line north from Richmond, Indiana to Mackinac City shortly thereafter.  At this time, there were some who believed that the Upper Peninsula might become a very productive agricultural area.  Presumably, those who invested in these rail lines hoped to profit from the shipment of farm products from the sparsely populated Upper Peninsula to densely settled southern Michigan.  Their hopes were in vain.

As the Michigan Central prospered, it constructed several attractive depots along their line to Mackinac City.  The ones in Lake Orion, Standish and Columbiaville are notable.  However, these depots are very modest structures compared to those they erected along their main Detroit to Chicago line, especially those at Ann Arbor, Battle Creek, Jackson and Niles.

The depot that you see pictured above very closely resembles the one in Grass Lake, Michigan that Frederick Spier and William Rohns designed for the Michigan Central.  Both are very appealing stone depots completed in the Richardson Romanesque style.    I believe the architects also used this design for the Harrisville, Michigan depot for the Detroit and Mackinac Railroad.  That depot was completed in January, 1902 about 13 years after the depot you see pictured above.  I do not know of any other architecturally similar depots that Spier and Rohns designed for the Michigan Cen5ral or for their parent line, the New York Central.  This lovely station now serves as an historical museum.

I believe that passenger service to this depot ended in 1964.  The freight line north to Cheboygan and Mackinac City survive for about a dozen years after that.

This town is not named for the famous Miles Standish, the man who was the military commander of the Plymouth Colony from 1621 through about 1645.  This Michigan city is named after John Standish who platted the area in 1871 and then ran a saw mill here.  Prior to the arrival of Mr. Standish, the area was known as Granton.

Architects: Frederick Spier and William C. Rohns
Architectural Style: Late Victorian accomplished in a Richardsonain Romanesque style
Date of Construction: 1889
Use in 2010: Historical Museum
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites:  P22,511 Listed August 27, 1977
State of Michigan Historical Marker: None put in place
National Register of Historic Places: Listed February 28, 1991
Photograph: Ren Farley; September 22, 2010
Description prepared: June, 2011

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