Before paved streets and buses the electric Interurban railway system in Michigan was the primary mode of public transportation. It was the link between cities and rural villages. It delivered guests to lake side parks and casinos like the one on Big Wolf Lake. It expanded local populations into regional ones. Most interurban systems started in the late 19th century and only operated until the late 1920'S. A very short lifespan for such a significant industry; that grew quickly and died just as fast. Most people alive today have never heard of the interurban system. It is the Lost Railway.
Jackson County was one of the largest railroad hubs in the nation during most of the early 1900'S. More than six different interurban rail lines intersected the county. They connected Jackson County communities Like Grass Lake to larger cities Like Ann Arbor, Jackson, Battle Creek and Lansing. Competing interurban Lines ran through the Village of Grass Lake on different track systems, in addition to the coal-fired steam railroads of the time. For over a century, the citizens of Grass Lake have had a close relationship with the railroads which ran through the middle of downtown.
In 1987, a group of citizens took it upon themselves to rebuild a historic rail station that was severely damaged by fire. It only took a few years to raise the money and complete the reconstruction. Since then, many of the artifacts (including the old safe) that were removed over the years have been donated back and proudly fill the same places they did at the turn of the century. The "new" old train station now serves the community as a public meeting place and event center.
A few years later, a section of the old interurban rail bed and right-of-way was made available to Grass Lake Area Historical Connections. Again, Grass Lake residents, working with Grass Lake Area Historical Connections, rose to the occasion. The land was acquired in a donation from the family of the late Judge Gordon Britten, and a replica interurban waiting station was constructed on the property directly behind the Coe House Museum.
With the development of the interurban property, Grass Lake residents began to look for other ways to remember and honor the rail history of the community. In 2013 an original interurban car (#29), which used to run the rails in Grass Lake, was located at a nearby lake. It had been converted to a cottage after the collapse of the interurban industry. Again, working with Grass Lake Area Historical Connections, local residents raised money, acquired the car, moved it to Grass Lake and began working on the early stages of a full restoration. Currently, a group of over a dozen local residents are working to make that dream a reality. In 2015, a 501(c)(3) organization was formed to raise donations and fund the project. A team of local craftsmen continue the process of the complete the restoration of the car. Resources are being gathered and the wheels are turning; it's time to get on board.
A PLACE FOR HISTORY
A building located at 142 W. Michigan Avenue in Grass Lake has been acquired by the Lost Railway Museum organization. Jackson architect Bob Cole of Architonics, an extensively experienced designer of museum spaces, designed the renovation plan that turned an abandoned old building into the showpiece of downtown Grass Lake. Ultimately the final project to include over accumulated 7,000 square feet of exhibit and community use space. Mike McKay at MR Builders took charge of the restoration of the building that currently exists today.
ABOUT THE PROJECT
The museum tells the story of how the rail line was important to Michigan's transportation history and the significance of Grass Lake and Jackson County in its development and operation. The museum is located at 142 West Michigan Avenue, within the central business district of Grass Lake, Michigan. Development of the site has included a complete renovation of the existing structure into a modern museum with available community use space. Alternative considerations include the construction of a turn of the century railway and the acquisition of a turn of the century horse drawn trolley car operating near the museum; enhancing the interactivity of the museum and displaying a precursor to electric railway systems and the interurban system. For more on the details of the Lost Railway Museum, check the website for current hours of operation at https://lostrailwaymuseum.org/ or facebook at www.facebook.com/lostrailwaymuseum. You can arrange for group tours by calling (517) 522-9500, or, by logging in for a tour at the webiste address listed above. For a recent look at the Museum click on the link below for the visit of WCMU's Destination Michign segment highlighting its visit to the Lost Railway Museum;