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With depot, theres no stop in sight for Living History Site
richard loper 2
Historic Effingham Society President Richard Loper discusses what a retaining wall under construction will mean for the Living History Site. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

There figures to be more life than ever to the Living History Site in the next few months.

Work is under way on a retaining wall that will serve several functions, and the Living History Site has just received the old Blandford Depot, adding to its collections of historic buildings.

“This is such a great thing,” said Richard Loper, president of the Historic Effingham Society, of the depot finding a new home. “This is so similar to all the depots at all the crossings in Effingham County.”

For years, the Blandford depot was sitting on private property after having been removed from its former home next to the railroad tracks. The family that owned the land where the depot rested donated it to the Living History Site. It was moved there earlier last month, thanks to Hugh Braswell.

The depot was used primarily for freight, according to Loper, and it had a potato grader where farmers could unload their potatoes to be judged ready for shipment. The good ones continued into sacks to be shipped out; those that failed the grade were culled out.

Onions could be separated on the potato grader, too.

“These things were shipped all over because that’s what Effingham was all about,” Loper said. “It was a real, real big industry in Effingham in the early 1900s.”

Plans call for restoring the depot back to its original appearance, including the removal of walls that were added after it was put into use.

“It’ll be opened up. You’ll see all the way through this loading area,” Loper said.

In its original configuration, the depot was just one large room, with no office. “Everything was done in here,” Loper said.

And once the restoration work is done, the plans don’t stop there. Loper said they want to build a short railroad track around the depot, giving it another air of authenticity.

“Our goal is to have a little railroad track and have a platform so we could use this like  a stage for special events,” Loper said.

It’s not just the depot the Living History Site is adding — it’s also getting more room. Work on the retaining wall, thanks to a Department of Natural Resources grant obtained by the city of Springfield, has nearly doubled the available space for the Living History Site. The Coastal Incentive grant is going toward a retaining wall that will prevent further erosion of the Living History Site from stormwater runoff.

“Anytime you had a hard rain, you get a lot of water right down through here,” Loper said, standing in the path that runs through the Living History Site. “And we needed the space. It was really rugged. This was a pretty sharp dropoff, filled with cottonmouth moccasins and other crawling creatures.”

The erosion has been alleviated by the lack of rainfall this year, Loper pointed out, and the re-direction of stormwater toward Highway 21 from the renovation of the Historic Courthouse.

The retaining wall, which will be six feet high, also will have an observation platform. It’s all part of a way to get people to the creek below, Loper said.

“The reason the DNR was involved in something like this was because of the water, trying to get people to the creek,” he said. “With this retaining wall, we had to make some attempt to get to the water. All this will be backfilled, so we’re gaining some usable space as well as preventing the erosion problem we’ve been having.

“It will proceed all the way around to the street. We’re just so excited about it.”

Now with more area opened up, more additions to the Living History Site could be in the offing.

“We want to put in a commissary, a little country store,” Loper said. “We want to put in a little chapel. We would love to have a turpentine still, an old-timey sawmill. Eventually, we want to have a botanical gardens beyond the wall so it can be a place for walking trails.

“We would love to be able to put in an Indian village, if we get some more property,” Loper continued. “All that is wishing right now, but all these things right here were wishing.”

There is a master plan for the Living History Site, including its expansion and the addition of more buildings.

“It may take several years, but that’s OK. We’ll get there,” Loper said. “We’ve come so far already with little money.”

The Living History Site and the city will hold a Christmas program at the Living History Site on Dec. 3. The event begins at 5 p.m. and kids will have the opportunity to make ornaments for the Christmas tree that will be lighted later in the program. The program starts at 6 p.m. and includes a performance by the Effingham Community Orchestra and also a handbell choir. Santa Claus also will be on hand, and light refreshments will be available.