Community Members Rally Together to Clean Up Old Train Depot in Lake Zurich

LAKE ZURICH, Ill. – In an uplifting convergence of old and new, the oldest train depot in Lake County, built in 1895, is getting a fresh look because of a message posted to a local Facebook chat group.

The original Facebook post, by Michael Quagliano in April, has since sparked community interest in reviving the old structure, which has sat unused for decades and was part of the EJ&E line, also known as the Chicago Outer Belt line. The depot is located at Rt. 22 and Old Rand Road in Lake Zurich, across from Casper True Value hardware.

Volunteers are cleaning up the Lake Zurich train depot. It will get a fresh coat of paint next week. Photo credit: Elizabeth and Christopher Bremner.

Until recently, the depot was largely obscured by thick brush and trees.

For the past few weeks, in summer heat, volunteers have been removing litter, clearing brush, and clearing tree debris on site. Next week, they will continue to clean up and when the heat subsides, they will paint the depot using paint specially matched and purchased by the depot’s private owner, Bruce Hanson, a lifelong and well-known Lake Zurich resident. Local businesses, including the Hungry Mule and La Parroquia Mexican Pancake House, have donated meals to the volunteers.

Lake Zurich resident Elizabeth Bremner explains the train depot cleanup efforts.

How the cleanup efforts began

Shown above, the original post that sparked the train depot cleanup discussion, in the Facebook group known as Lake Zurich Chat. The group is run by Elizabeth and Christopher Bremner of Lake Zurich and has more than 4,000 members.

Michael Quagliano, president of Working Q Landscaping, said he asked about the depot in the Lake Zurich Chat Facebook group after a fellow “railfan” inquired about the structure. The chat group is run by Elizabeth and Christopher Bremner of Lake Zurich.

“He suggested I put my arboist skills to work and help clean up the brush a bit,” Quagliano said.

According to Quagliano, the Bremners followed up with Hanson and got final approval for the cleanup.

“I have to give credit to Elizabeth and Chris for running with it,” said Quagliano.

“I didn’t know them,” said Hanson, the depot owner, “but I thought it was a good idea.”

Volunteers from the Facebook group agreed to gather and help, and the cleanup began a few weeks ago. The project was even praised at a Village Board of Trustees meeting last week.

Building Momentum

“Local businesses are getting involved,” said Elizabeth Bremner. Associates at the Lake Zurich Home Depot store are looking to organize additional volunteers, and a local restaurant suggested a future fundraiser for the project. Other businesses donated supplies.

Aug. 21 cleanup crew from Left: Blanaid O’Sullivan, Elizabeth Bremner, and Michael Quagliano. Not shown: Christopher Bremner and Brian Rothas.

So much history

Hanson purchased the depot in 1986 from the EJ&E.

“They were going to tear the depot down and I wanted to preserve it,” explained Hanson, who had three days to get the $30,000 required to buy it. For another year, Hanson battled legally with more than a dozen supervisory boards, rail commissions and federal agencies to successfully purchase the depot.

Hanson is a lifelong resident of Lake Zurich, a former Lake County Board member and a former Ela Township trustee. Hanson also chaired the Education committee for the Lake County Forest Preserve. Now retired, he taught at College of Lake County in the evenings and was an American government teacher for 28 years at Zion-Benton High School.

“I didn’t have to do anything,” he quipped, “Seniors in high school know everything.”

A true history buff with near-encyclopedic knowledge of the local area, Hanson has collected railroad memorabilia for years and had originally wanted to establish a museum to preserve local history. Vandals and thieves thwarted that plan.

Lake Zurich resident Michael Quagliano. Behind him, a truckload of brush that was cleared that morning.

“The brush was there to keep vandals out. People were tagging the side of the building. They were breaking windows and breaking in for years,” he said. “I had an unbelievable amount of vandalism over the years, mostly from kids in the neighborhood,” he said.

The cleanup volunteers can confirm the debris: on Aug. 21, they cleaned up a few dozen broken beer bottles, cartons and cigarette butts strewn around what may have been a recent bonfire. A ladder hung from a tree.

Once, Hanson witnessed a man “dressed in his Sunday best and coming from church” attempting to steal the depot’s paver stones, most of which Hanson had purchased and placed there himself. (“It was better than going to a health club,” he said).

Some of the pavers are from Maxwell Street and the old post office in Chicago. Larger rocks, some weighing up to 15 tons, were purchased from Meyer Material yard in Algonquin, Ill.

The church-going man returned the stones after Hanson confronted him.

“I didn’t press charges that time,” Hanson said, though he did press charges a number of other times, and occasionally escorted the vandals and thieves, usually kids, to the police station himself.

When vandalism becomes an antique: graffiti on the train depot walls purportedly dates back to the early 1900s. Photo credit: Elizabeth and Christopher Bremner.

Hanson mentioned another historic depot, not far from the Lake Zurich depot, that may be torn down soon.

Does he ever get the urge to preserve another train depot?

“No,” he said, “Not especially.”

Volunteers who want to help with painting and ongoing cleanup efforts can contact the Bremners or Quagliano through Lake Zurich Chat or join the newly formed Lake Zurich Train Depot group on Facebook.

By Margo Pelak

Margo Pelak is founder and managing editor of the Local Newsreader, which covers hyper-local news in Hawthorn Woods, Lake Zurich and Mundelein. She resides in Hawthorn Woods with her husband Dennis and two wild beasts named Ladybug and Juney P.

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