Couple's dream of restoring depot coming true
Preserving Wheaton's rich history has fueled Ralph and Betty Lamberson's desire to see the old Wheaton Depot restored to its original glory. Betty's grandfather served as station agent from 1924 until the Depot closed in 1947, and both Betty and Ralph were born and raised in Wheaton.
"Betty was born at the hospital here, and I was born at 308 Gardner," said Ralph. "It's our roots."
This weekend, the couple, along with other Wheaton Historical Society volunteers, had the opportunity to show off the progress that has been made converting the dilapidated structure into a beautifully restored piece of Wheaton history. Those attending Friday's night's fiddlers contest and Saturday's barbecue had the opportunity to tour the depot and view the restoration work first hand.
The exterior renovation is complete, and now volunteers, led by Ralph Lamberson and J.P. Hickman, are working to complete the interior work. A yellow pine tongue and groove floor has been laid and work is beginning on the interior walls. Original trim molding, wainscoting and windows will be used to complete the interior work and there are plans to install the old ticket window inside the building.
"It's all very authentic," said Ralph.
The dream of restoring the Depot began taking shape in 1999 when Betty was able to get the Depot placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Since that time, the Wheaton Historical Society purchased the building and fundraising efforts began to restore the building.
Funding for the renovation project has come from several sources, which include the sale of the Wheaton Centennial Book, "Wheaton Echoes" as well as the sale of memorial brick markers, which will be used to complete the landscaping outside of the Depot. These bricks can be purchased with inscriptions, further personalizing the local project.
So far, the Wheaton Historical Society has sold close to $18,000 worth of bricks. Eventually the bricks will be used to create a courtyard outside the Depot. An old railroad track will also be part of the landscaping plan.
The group continues to accept donations, which are tax deductible. Because the Depot is also on the National Register of Historic Places, donors also are eligible for tax credits.
"This gives our donors a double advantage," said Ralph.
Once renovation of the Wheaton Depot is completed, the Wheaton Historical Society will establish a museum dedicated to Wheaton history as well as the history of the Missouri-Northwest Arkansas Railroad.
This weekend, a few of the historical items that will become part of Wheaton's museum were on display. Some of the more interesting items included a 1944 ledger from the old Cozy Theatre that once operated in Wheaton as well as some actual Missouri-Northwest Arkansas Railroad tickets for a trip from Seligman to Wheaton.
"We have huge plans for the Depot," said Betty. "We will be inviting collectors from around the area to display their collections, so we will always have something new for people to see. We want to think outside the box and get more and more people involved."
The Wheaton Historical Society also intends to seek grant funding to help finance the renovation project and supplement future activities at the museum.
For more information on the Wheaton Depot project, visit www.wheatondepotmuseum.org.
Monthly meetings of the Wheaton Historical Society are held at Wheaton City Hall on the first Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. These meetings are open to the public.
Members of the Wheaton Historical Society Board of Directors include: Dale McCracken, president; David Shockley, vice president; Gail Reed, secretary; Betty Lamberson, treasurer; Donna Youngblood, membership chairman; Ralph Lamberson, historian; and Linda Carlile, reporter.