Schreiber oversees historic railroad depot
PRINCETON – Now, in his 36th year serving as a professor of criminal justice at St. Cloud State University, Barry Schreiber is in a period of what is called “phased retirement.”
As he enters this phase of his life, the native of Homewood, Illinois, is finding plenty of ways to fill any idle time leading up to full retirement.
Residing in the Zimmerman area, Schreiber first became aware of the existence of the Mille Lacs County Historical Society “back around 2000.”
His interest was peaked during a visit to the Mille Lacs County Fair where he paid a visit to the Heritage Building and came across some photographs of interest.
“One is an iconic photo taken in 1937 of the Princeton Great Northern Railroad Depot,” Schreiber said.
This photo was very striking, to the eye of someone who has a passion for trains and railroad history.
He recalled a saying that was written on the photograph, “A solid trainload of potatoes and onions shipped by O.J. Odegard from Princeton, Minnesota September 20, 1937.”
That photo, showing a steam locomotive idling on a track next to the depot with a string of refrigerated cars, with the engineer pictured in what Schreiber termed as “dramatic and iconic for this station for that era.”
Schreiber inquired about getting a copy of that photo, something he could display in the full-size railroad caboose that he uses for a home office.
“This provides a wonderful space for me to work,” noted Schreiber.
VISITS THE DEPOT
Following the fair that year Schreiber paid a visit to the depot location, an historic building that is owned and located on the grounds of the Mille Lacs County Historical Society.
Schreiber notes the facility is located at 101 10th Ave. South, dating back to 1949 and is run by an all-volunteer staff.
It was love at first viewing of this facility for Schreiber, as he pointed out, “I got my first look at the place and saw that this was a great building that deserves some time and attention.”
LEADS THE BOARD
As a matter of fact, his love for the project led to him becoming a member of the historical board in 2002.
Today he serves as president of the six-member board that oversees the entire operation.
Schreiber is especially proud of the depot, a beautiful stone and brick building that was built in 1902 and is now 114 years old.
The building covers some 215 feet, while standing 35-feet tall and 37 feet at the widest point.
To Schreiber, the depot building is “one of a kind.”
History shows, according to Schreiber, that three depots were constructed using the same plans.
He notes that James J. Hill was very “thrifty and shrewd,” using blueprints to construct the same building in Litchfield and another in Bellingham, Washington.
The depot in Bellingham burned down in 1926, while the one in Litchfield was torn down in 1985.
SAVE DEPOT HERE
“Fortunately we were able to get a Minnesota Arts and Heritage grant to replace the roof on this depot in 2014, which probably saved the fate of this building,” Schreiber said.
In discussing the Princeton depot, Schreiber is pleased with the original maple floor and the bricks, that were baked only two and one-half miles north in the former town of Brickton.
This includes the stone pieces above the doorways and windows.
The facility also features Kettle River Sandstone that hails from the Sandstone area.
MISSED A MEETING
Schreiber recalled the one day he missed a monthly meeting that gave him a job title.
“I got a letter on Tuesday that said in my absence I had been selected as Superintendent of the train project,” Schreiber said.
Not about to back away, taking on the project was something he was looking forward to.
But wait, when he asked, “what’s the budget,” he was told there was no money and they “just wanted to make it happen.”
Indeed, he was able to accomplish that and a whole lot more.
Using what he termed as “connections,” once the train idea got up a full head of steam, there was no stopping.
ON THE TRACKS
The depot area now has four full-size rail cars, including a caboose and a flat car that is used for a stage.
During the summer months the setting is perfect for Summer Music in the Park, offering free concerts with a wide variety of music being featured.
The two box cars on the property came as a part of the project that included restoring the tracks to allow for an authentic train next to the depot.
Today the Princeton depot can boast of 700 feet of track, along with an operating switch, all in place thanks to those connections.
“Each car has a story,” Schreiber said, noting a 1919 wooden box car from Hastings proved to be quite the project to land here.
MORE TO SEE
More than 1,200 visitors come to the exhibits offered by the Mille Lacs County Historical Society, with a number of other items to view.
On the grounds history can be relived by paying a visit to “what is said to be the fourth-oldest pioneer one-room schoolhouse dating back to 1856.”
Schreiber is excited about what they have to offer during the summer months.
“In the summer we have five one-week sessions of Pioneer School for kids ages 6-12.”
These sessions are taught as a living museum, as it was in 1870, with many of the kids dressed in period costumes.
“There are no electronics, with emphasis on post-Civil War, with kids jumping rope and making hand-made ice cream,” Schreiber said.
The class sizes are kept small, to allow for more interaction.
Another feature of the grounds is the freight house, located on one end of the depot.
According to Schreiber this end is rented out for birthday parties, wedding receptions, garage sales, train shows and memorial services, to name a few.
Last year the society received a $30,000 gift to allow them to restore the main entrance and make some improvements to this area.
Those improvements are nearing completion, according to Schreiber.
TOWN OF BRICKTON
Schreiber is especially excited about what lies ahead in September.
The grounds of the Mille Lacs County Historical Society will unveil a special exhibit to the lost city of Brickton.
Once located only two and one-half miles north of Princeton, near present day Long Siding, the temporary display will bring to life the days of old.
Schreiber indicated the display will be on location for “several months.”
This exhibit will offer lots of information, as the group has managed to get their hands on postmaster ledgers from 1886 to 1920.
At one time there were five brickyards in this location, producing some 800 million bricks, with many thousands of them in the depot, with the remainder being used in buildings scattered across Minnesota and beyond.
“We are thrilled to have folks step forward, with journals and the like to help with this project,” Schreiber said.
While there were a few people that made up the core of the town, it proved to be a seasonal community, with workers departing to go back and pursue other work opportunities.
Open year-round, the grounds of the society are open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Wednesday through Saturday, being staffed by volunteers.
With his passion for trains, and the fact he missed that one meeting, Schreiber oversees the depot museum and works on train restorations.
While phasing out of full-time employment, it appears Schreiber will have plenty on his plate for years to come.