homepage logo

This group in Wells did what many towns dream of, but don’t

By Staff | Dec 21, 2009

There have been several stories in the pages of the Register this past year concerning Wells and things going on there.

Some have been good things, such as the school district learning they are in much better financial shape than what had earlier been reported. Some not so good, as the City Council squabbles over past and present city problems. And a few have been downright ugly, and have brought on investigations that could bring about future repercussions, and at the very least will cost the city thousands of dollars from their budget.

In fact, there are a few stories about Wells in this week’s Register, which has been dubbed our ‘Good News’ edition. And not all of those stories are necessarily good news. One could make a point, however, that the city is having these charges investigated and thus is doing something about the problems and not ignoring them. Maybe that is good news.

But on the front page of this week’s newspaper is another story about a group in Wells, and it is a story we hope you read. It focuses on an organization in Wells, the Wells Historical Society, that has accomplished something many other small towns only dream about.

They saved the railroad depot.

The historical society’s president, Ila Teskey, tells the story that her group saved the the depot virtually at the last minute. Think of it as a presidential pardon just as the convict is about to be strapped in the chair.

The IC & E Railroad had gone to the Wells City Hall to get a permit for demolition of the old depot building. It was in really tough shape, with the brick walls falling apart, the roof in need of repair and new shingles, the inside floor heaving up, etc. It was a real mess.

The railroad wanted to tear it down and build a new office building on the same spot. Now, in a lot of towns, that is precisely what would have happened. And it would have been fine – a building that was fast becoming a big eyesore would be gone, and a new office building would be in its place.

But not in Wells.

Zoa Heckman, who was the Wells Community Development director at the time, was at City Hall when the railroad came in for the permit. She quickly contacted Teskey at the historical society, and the wheels were set into motion to save the depot.

Not that it was easy. The group had to convince the railroad, find them a new location nearby for their office building and then figure out what to do next.

In some small towns, that could have been a dilemma. Now that they owned this dilapidated structure, what next? They had saved it from the wrecking ball, but they had to do something with it.

They did. They raised $400,000 in grants and donations and have turned the old depot from an eyesore into a showcase. It is an amazing transformation.

The building is a classic example of a small town railroad depot – from its layout, brick structure and classic roof lines. Just driving up to it, it is immediately obvious that it is – or at least was – a railroad depot.

The historical society was able to use that fact to secure its largest grant from the Minnesota Department of Transportation. They have a fund for just this kind of project.

So, while other towns have seen their old depots razed or moved, the people in Wells saw a golden opportunity to make a big improvement in their community. They not only saved a classic old building in the city, they will soon also open a new Wells museum.

They deserve a lot of credit, and we offer them a big note of congratulations on a job very well done.

Of course, the Wells depot story is not the only ‘good news’ in this week’s paper.

Our goal, this week before Christmas, is to give you, our readers, some stories which you can read over the holidays which showcase some of the good things happening in the county.

This year we did it with an interesting variety of subjects. Some of the stories highlight some personal struggles, with what we hope are happy endings.

We hope you enjoy reading them. And we wish you all a blessed holiday season.

Merry Christmas!