Lebanon Historical Society Races to Preserve Railroad Building

  • West Lebanon Feed and Supply, owned by Curt Jaques, is reflected in the window of a former railroad depot, owned by David Clem, in West Lebanon, N.H., Sunday, July 23, 2017. Clem no longer wants the building, but it can not remain on land that Jacques plans to turn into a parking lot.(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A former railroad depot owned by David Clem sits on a temporary carriage surrounded by land owned by West Lebanon Feed and Supply owner Curt Jacques Sunday, July 23, 2017. Clem no longer plans to move and renovate the building, and though the Lebanon Historical Society would like the building, there is no place for it to go. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/23/2017 11:54:49 PM
Modified: 7/25/2017 9:35:11 AM

West Lebanon — A group of historians, businesspeople and city officials are scrambling to save a historic West Lebanon railroad building that faces demolition.

But the train, as they say, is about to leave the station.

The old Westboro ticket depot is set to be razed by developer David Clem, who recently called off plans to move the building from 26 Railroad Ave. to the site of his proposed development nearby.

Clem has applied for a demolition permit to tear down the roughly 20-by-40-foot structure, leaving it up to the Lebanon Historical Society to preserve it.

“We would like to restore it and put a museum in it,” Ed Ashey, Lebanon’s city historian, said during an interview last week. “We’d like to see it saved as a monument to the railroad.”

Clem has offered to give the depot to the historical society, but the nonprofit does not have funds to relocate it nor a property to which it can be moved, Ashey said.

Clem sold the Railroad Avenue property that is home to the depot in May. He initially had 30 days to move the depot, but the new property owner Curt Jacques, who operates nearby West Lebanon Feed and Supply, has offered to extend the deadline.

Speaking before the City Council last Wednesday, Fran Hanchett, historical society president, and Jacques implored city officials to help find a suitable property for the building.

“This is really one of the last pieces of history that we have in the rail yard,” said Jacques, according to an audio recording of the meeting.

Jacques added his company is willing to hold off on improving the property, which is slated to become a parking lot, because he believes in saving the depot. But Jacques isn’t willing to wait forever as the city debates solutions, he said.

Hanchett also said the project calls for a rapid response from city officials, given the historical society originally had until July 13 to agree to taking the depot.

“I hope you could understand that any further delays would jeopardize this gift because the owner has already applied for a demolition permit,” she told the Council. “I hope you can understand the urgency of all this.”

The City Council scheduled a full discussion for its next meeting on Aug. 2. Historians are hoping that will culminate in some sort of action.

The train depot itself has served several purposes since it was first used in the 1890s as a railroad stop that was a part of the larger Westboro Rail Yard, an important junction along the route toward Burlington that began operating in 1848.

Although passenger service to West Lebanon stopped in 1964 and many of Westboro’s old buildings fell into a state of disrepair, the depot was largely spared from that fate, according to Jacques.

The building was relocated and served as a VFW post, a flooring store and the first home of Olivet Baptist Church, Jacques recalled. It was owned by the White River Junction-based New England Transportation Museum when Clem purchased it and the Railroad Avenue parcel in 2012.

More recently, a couple from Lyme proposed renovating the building and connecting it to a new, two-story structure to create a deli, market and office space.

A couple received Planning Board approval for the project in April. The pair were in talks with Clem to purchase the property but the plans fell through and the land was ultimately sold to Jacques for $290,000, according to assessing records.

Clem said in June that he planned to move the building to the 38-acres north of Crafts Avenue where he’s planning to build 840,000 square feet of retail, office and life science space known as River Park. But that plan appears to have fallen apart over a disagreement with city officials.

To move the building, Clem was asked to pay for a police escort and plan an early-morning move, so as not to impact regular traffic along Main Street, said Interim City Manager Paula Maville.

“When we weren’t exactly sure of the (building’s) height and how things were going to need to be maneuvered to get it through the street, I asked for some kind of security in the event something happened to the traffic (lights),” Maville said in an interview last week. “He was upset about that.”

Maville said she asked Clem to provide a $5,000 insurance bond or certified check only to be used if city infrastructure was damaged in the move.

Afterward, Clem notified the city the move was canceled, Maville said.

Clem declined last week to comment on the ticket depot or why he called off the relocation.

Meanwhile, historians and Jacques said they’re committed to trying to save the depot, and city councilors have also stepped up efforts.

During last week’s meeting, Mayor Sue Prentiss and Assistant Mayor Tim McNamara said they were making calls to find a temporary home for the depot.

Clem has told officials he will move the building for free onto neighboring property owned by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, which manages existing rail operations in West Lebanon.

While discussions between the city and state regarding the Westboro Rail Yard haven’t been fruitful, Prentiss said she intended to reach out to Gov. Chris Sununu and Executive Councilor Joe Kenney for assistance in convincing the DOT to temporarily house the building.

The idea was met with cautious optimism at last week’s meeting, including from Councilor Karen Liot Hill.

“We’ve been good neighbors for them, and they haven’t always been good neighbors for us, so if they could help us out for a little while so we could preserve probably one of the only things we’ll be able to preserve from the Westboro Yard, I think that will be a win-win to me,” she said in a recording of the meeting.

The City Council will next discuss the depot at 7 p.m. on Aug. 2 in City Hall.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223

Sign up for our free email updates
Valley News Daily Headlines
Valley News Contests and Promotions
Valley News Extra Time
Valley News Breaking News

Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784


© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy