1873 : New Jackson Rail Depot Dedicated

September 1, 2023 all-day
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The historic Amtrak station in Jackson, Michigan is the oldest, continuously operating, railroad-designed-and-built passenger train station in the United States, according to Ed Rutkowski, its chief historian.

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The current station was built in 1872-73 by the Michigan Central Railroad, one of three rail lines created by the state Legislature to improve travel and transportation in Michigan’s early days. The original station was also built by the Michigan Central Railroad, Jackson’s first railroad,  in 1841 when the city was just 12 years old.

Jackson remained the Michigan Central’s western terminus until 1844 when the line was extended to Marshall. The city was accessible and enjoyed a growth period at this time, servicing travelers, attracting industry and becoming a successful convention center.

The Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad came to town in 1858, making Jackson the state’s only interior city with two competing railroads. That kept shipping prices down, making Jackson even more appealing to industry.

After the Civil War, several other rail lines were launched by Jackson businessmen, making the city a true transportation hub. The Michigan Central located its car repair and manufacturing shops in Jackson in 1871, which quickly employed more than 1,000 men.

“That really started everything for Jackson as a city,” Rutkowski said.

By this time, Jackson had 30 rail arrivals and departures daily. More passengers passed through Jackson than any other city in the state, and only Detroit surpassed the city for freight.

It was time for a passenger station that befitted this prestige. So, the Michigan Central turned not to an architect but to H.R. Gardener, a master builder for the railroads, to create the “grand central station” that still stands today.


Ground was broken Nov. 7, 1872, and the structure was completed Sept. 1, 1873, which was Labor Day.   Note 1872 announcement including the fact that it would have separate ladies’ and gentelmen’s waiting rooms.

Newspaper stories at the time called it the “finest railroad depot in Michigan” and “one of the most convenient passenger houses in the northwest.”

“It was built to be durable, but when you walked in, you were taken back by its elegance,” Rutkowski said.

The Victorian-Italianate-style building used heart pine, ash, oak and walnut woods from Michigan. A carved walnut arch separated the ticket office from the newsstand and the women’s waiting room from the men’s. Crystal chandeliers hung overhead. There was a telegraph office, baggage room, restaurant and “water closets,” what we call restrooms.

More important, the station had a slate roof instead of a wooden one so it was more protected against fire from flying sparks from the steam engines.

“That’s one of the main reasons the station survived and we still have it today,” Rutkowski said.

Postcard of Jackson Depot from the early 1900s

A post card of the Jackson Depot from the early 1900s.

The station united four rail lines under one roof in a central spot in the city. Tracks fanned out in nine directions, and passengers could go almost anywhere direct from Jackson.

The new station helped solidify Jackson as a rail center through the 1960s. Today, its listing on the National Register of Historic Places saves the structure and preserves it as it was meant to be, Guidinger said.

“The hope is that we can make it an inter-modal transportation center for trains, buses and taxis,” he said. “We would like to see it develop that way.”

Notable dates

Jackson’s rail history began in 1841 when the Michigan Central Railroad put in the town’s first tracks, linking Jackson to Ann Arbor and Detroit. Here are other memorable dates.

1850 — The feud between the railroads and farmers claiming they were not being fairly compensated for errant cows hit by speeding locomotives came to a head when a depot in Detroit was burned. Fifty Jackson County farmers, led by Leoni’s Abel Fitch, were arrested and sent to Detroit for trial. Fitch died in jail, reportedly of dysentery. Twelve were convicted, but later pardoned.

1858 — The Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad completed construction of its Jackson branch, which terminated downtown. For the next 10 years, Jackson was the only interior Michigan city with two major competing railroads.

Post Civil War — Four more railroads, the Jackson-Lansing-Saginaw, Jackson-Fort Wayne-Saginaw, Grand River Valley and Michigan Airline, joined the two major railroads in town. All were started by Jackson residents.

1870 — Jackson led Michigan in the number of rail passengers served — 72,482 in one year.

1871 — Michigan Central established car repair and manufacturing shops in Jackson, employing more than 1,000 men.

1873 — Michigan Central depot opened at 501 E. Michigan Ave., replacing its old facilities as well as stations for the Jackson-Lansing-Saginaw, Jackson-Fort Wayne-Saginaw and Grand River Valley lines.

1877 — Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt acquired the Michigan Central, making it part of the New York Central Railroad.

1879 — Fifteen people were killed in the rail yards on the southeast part of Jackson when a passenger train collided with a switch engine and several freight cars.

1883 — A train bound for the World’s Columbian Exposition (World’s Fair) in Chicago crashed into the rear of another train at the Jackson station, killing 13 passengers and injuring 30 others. It was Friday the 13th.

1904 — Michigan Central shops closed in Jackson.

1928 — Michigan Central depot in Jackson is remodeled and improved.

1966 — New York Central merged with the Pennsylvania Central Railroad.

1973 — Amtrak purchased the Jackson station, while Conrail bought the rail lines.

1978 — The Jackson Area Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation, led by Genevieve Harvey, head a $190,000 renovation of Jackson’s depot. Much of the funding came from Amtrak and the state Department of Transportation.

1978 — Three Conrail railroad workers were murdered at the Jackson train station on New Year’s Eve. Rudy Bladel, an obsessed loner from Elkhart, Ind., was arrested. He blamed Michigan trainmen for taking work from Indiana railroad workers. He was convicted in 1979 and sentenced to life in prison. The conviction was overturned on appeal, but Bladel was convicted again in 1987. He died in prison in 2006 of thyroid cancer.

1983 — Jackson’s station received a $1 million pork-barrel federal grant for renovations secured by U.S. Rep. Carl Pursell. Less than $200,000 was used to make the facility handicap accessible and the rest was returned to federal coffers.

2002 — Jackson depot, already a part of the city’s historic district, was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Sources :

LeAnne Smith, “Peek through Time: Jackson’s Amtrak Station is still going strong after 137 years“, MLive, May 7, 2010; updated June 21, 2010.

Jackson, MI JXN, The Great American Stations

Jackson Station (Michigan) wikipedia entry states the Jackson Railroad Depot was a replacement for the original station built in 1841.

Jackson Michigan – Union Station from the Michigan’s Internet History Railraod Museum