As I walked down Lafayette Street in Jamestown, I heard the whistle of the approaching train, a sound not heard for far too many years. I opened the door and entered the train station - it looked as I remembered it 75-plus years ago. I sat down on one of the benches, as alien to the human back now as it was then. The station was bustling with humanity of all ages, sizes, and shapes, reminiscent of an era of which my middle-aged offspring have no knowledge or recollection.
We go about our daily lives, unmindful for the most part of what has transpired in the past which has brought us to where we are today. Jamestown would not be what it is today without the trains which passed through, stopping to load and unload people and goods before proceeding to their final destinations.
The first train, the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad, chugged into Brooklyn Square on August 25, 1860. Jamestown was still a village, growing steadily, but very slowly. Following the close of the Civil War in 1865, the railroad was a major factor in bringing the large numbers of European immigrants to the area. Among those immigrants were inventors and entrepreneurs who established industries. And the railroad also brought workers for those industries. Most importantly, it also supplied the transportation to take the finished products to eager markets throughout the country and elsewhere throughout the world. By 1886, Jamestown had increased sufficiently in population to incorporate as a city, continuing to grow and flourish until after WWII.
Heraclitus, in the 5th-6th centuries BCE, opined that the only constant in life is change...nothing remains the same, not even from one moment to the next, one can never step into the same river twice.
The trains began to leave as a number of the major industries left. Trucks and airplanes gradually supplanted the trains that remained. The passenger trains ceased first; freight trains gradually diminished and ultimately also ceased. Grass, shrubs, small trees sprouted up along the unused tracks which remained as a reminder of the very recent past. The railroad station became a "ghost town," left to gather dust, used only for some storage.
Fortunately, many civic leaders were not content to let the train station stand empty and unused , gradually deteriorating to an inevitable demise. A number of possibilities were discussed and explored. However, the neglected train station, built in 1932, was in great need of repair and cosmetic revitalization. This required lots of those pesky dollars which are so hard to come by. Undaunted, those civic leaders and others pursued and ultimately succeeded in acquiring a sufficient number of those pesky dollars to restore the railroad station to a useful entity in the community's daily life.
We owe much to their foresight, faith, and persistence.
The train station is another piece in the renaissance of downtown Jamestown. It will not be the same train station as before, even though it looks the same. It will take on a new life, one as valuable and vital and vibrant as its predecessor. It will teem with people engaged in their normal daily routine tasks. And it will again welcome visitors and newcomers to a community that is alive and well and thriving.
Who knows? Someday it may even welcome trains announcing their approach with a whistle.