New roof could be in depot’s future

It’s been almost a month since Mille Lacs County Historical Society (MLCHS) board president Penny Quast received the letter but she is still “ecstatic” over its contents.

The March 30 letter from Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) Deputy Director of Programs Pat Gaarder announces that the MHS has awarded the MLCHS a $7,000 Minnesota Historical and Cultural Program grant. The money is to be used for the architectural assessment of the much-deteriorated wood-shingle roof on MLCHS’ Great Northern Depot Center.

The 109-year-old structure with a combination of Queen Anne and Jacobean architectural styles is located at 10th Avenue and First Street in Princeton. Sandstone and locally manufactured brick are on the sides of this building that was put on the National Register of Historic Places list in 1977.

It has historic significance just for the sake of being a depot for regular passenger and freight service, but it also was instrumental in carrying area soldiers off to fight in wars. It played a huge role in establishing Princeton as one of the area’s once large agricultural industries, growing thousands of tons of produce – potatoes, onions and carrots to name some.

Train service ended many decades ago in Princeton, with Burlington Northern freight trains the last to come through in the mid-1980s. The tracks were removed and the city later turned the depot building property over to the MLCHS.

MLCHS members and many other volunteers have, in the past two decades, installed some railroad track sections next to the old depot building and placed several railroad cars on them. The MLCHS has started to turn one of the boxcars into a railroad museum.

Quast has been trying for more than a year to get a grant from the MHS to fix the roof, which has become leaky. Water stains can be seen on a wall inside and warped ceiling tiles in another spot show the results of water having seeped through from the roof.

“We need a roof badly,” Quast said, as she held up a deteriorated wood shingle that had fallen from the top of the building.

Having the architectural assessment is the first step toward getting a grant to repair the roof, Quast said. She added that she doesn’t think the MHS would have given the architectural assessment grant if there wasn’t the possibility of the MHS later approving a roof-renovation grant for the depot.

Quast has obtained an $180,000 estimate for the full-roof renovation, which would include some trim. The architectural assessment will, however, be a detailed guide on what needs to be done with the roof and how it is to be accomplished. One of the important parts of the roof project will be to maintain the structure’s historical integrity.

Quast has sent a document to the MHS showing that the MLCHS accepts the architectural assessment grant and is now awaiting word from the MHS to order the assessment work.

“In my view, if we get a roof, this building will last another hundred years,” Quast said.

The MLCHS needs a break like this, as this is just one project needed at the depot, Quast explains.

She pointed to the need for a fire suppression system and energy-efficient windows. Then there is the $63,000 assessment hanging over the MLCHS from a street and utility project about five years ago that included the block the MLCHS property is on.

With minimal revenue, the nonprofit MLCHS has struggled just to pay the annual interest payments on that assessment, Quast said.