“If it was just offices or something, the community wouldn’t really benefit from it. We’re just glad to be here and glad the people support us. It’s just a good thing.”
Trains began arriving in Marion in 1879, with local citizens hoping the young community would serve as a major railroad hub. Instead, it became part of a branch line.
After the original wooden depot burned in 1908, the Santa Fe Railroad Co. decided to replace it with a large, brick building at a cost of $11,000. The new depot was opened and dedicated June 12 four years after the fire with Santa Fe and county officials in attendance.
The depot served as a destination point for a two-car motor train called the “Doodlebug” that circulated between Florence and Lyons.
When that line ended in May 1952, the depot sat unoccupied for many years. Later it was owned by numerous individuals for different purposes, including as a youth center. Its last use was as a flour mill.
When the building became available for purchase in 1998, the Marion City Commission decided to acquire it with the hope of using it at some point for the community.
The structure became home for the local Chamber of Commerce office, which had been located in the city building. It also hosted several community meetings.
Soon, it became apparent the building needed restoration work. City leaders decided to renovate the structure as a new home for the library. The former one also was located in the city building.
The new facility would double the library’s square footage to 4,000 feet.
With the cost for improvements estimated at $758,000, the city applied for an enhancement project grant through the Kansas Department of Transportation. In 2000, the city was awarded the grant with the stipulation of locally raising 20 percent of the cost.
“People were very generous for giving money for that,” Marler said. “We had to raise $152,000. Luckily we got it before the economy collapsed. Now, it would be pretty tough to do that.”
A key element to the fundraising effort was the sale of personalized engraved bricks used at the building’s entrance. More than 750 have been installed.
“This was one of the first projects where Marion came together and did it together,” Marler said. “Since then we’ve worked on the hospital, we’ve worked on the school and aquatic center, the park renovation and things like that. But it seems the library was the thing that really pulled people together.”
Restore and renew
Renovation began in November 2001. Much of the existing depot has been restored to its original look, but modified for library use:
• The ticket agent room has been converted to hold the Kansas collection and genealogy materials;
• The main waiting room is now the children’s area;
• The weighing area has become the circulation checkout and the location for public-use computers;
• The freight area now is home for rows of shelving with adult fiction and non-fiction books;
• The second waiting area is now a small reading area;
• The sliding freight doors are an exact replica of the originals, and are used now to cover the windows added to that area.
In June 2002, residents came together to hand-carry the books from the old library to the new one. It officially opened July 14 with a grand opening and dedication.
Marler said the public’s response to the project has been affirming.
“We get a lot of out of town people,” she said. “A lot of them are people who used to live here and remember using the train, or working on the train, or making trips on the Doodlebug to McPherson or something.
“For others, it’s kind of a dual interest. We get some who are librarians and come to look at the library. But we also have some train people who come to look at trains. So it’s kind of a dual-purpose type thing.
“The response is always good,” she added. “They’re always positive and are glad we restored it. Most people say, ‘Oh, the depot in my town is torn down.’”
The project has received official affirmation, too, winning the Kansas Preservation Award and a statewide award from the Associated General Contractors in 2004.
The additional space has helped the library expand its services, according to Marler, who started as a part-time staff member in 1974.
“When we first opened we had a staff of two, and now we have a staff of six—all are part-time but myself,” she said. “It required more staff to cover the busyness.
“We had two computers before, and now we’ve got five. We have programs now where we didn’t before. We have our own little area for (children’s) story time. Before, we had to move tables, chairs and people out of the room.”
So popular has been the library’s use in the community that Marler and the seven-member board that oversees its operation are already envisioning the possibility of expansion.
“We’d like to add on a room just for programs—kids things and things like that,” Marler said. “We show movies here, and we have a lot space, but yet it’s not enough for some things.”
“We’d like to do more programs and offer more things with Kindles, Nooks and e-books and try to keep up with the future.”
Marler said the new space, if it happens, would be separate but attached in a way that would preserve the historical integrity of the depot.
Events to celebrate the two anniversaries have been planned throughout 2012.
Coming this summer is the “All Aboard!” summer reading program, Wednesday afternoon movies (June 27 through July 18) the annual garden tour fundraiser (July 7), a magic show by Eric Vaughn (July 11) and the August reception that will feature a model train display and Santa Fe Railroad memorabilia.
“We always do a lot, but we’re doing a little bit more this year,” Marler said. “It’s just a nice keepsake to have the building that the community can use.”