It’s history Lititz’s last train station reduced to rubble

By on August 21, 2013


STEPHEN SEEBER Record Express Staff

, Staff Writer

Photos by Stephen Seeberâ?©Demolition of the Water Street freight station began last Thursday, an inevitable end to a memorable era in Lititz history.

Efforts to save the old railroad depot on Water Street proved to be too little, too late. Demolition of the old freight station, built by the Reading Railroad in 1921 and currently owned by Norfolk-Southern, began last Thursday.

"We’re hoping to have it wrapped up by the end of the week," said Dave Pidgeon, Norfolk-Southern public relations manager, during a brief phone interview Monday.

Some had hoped the building could be renovated for use as part of the neighboring farmers market. Others felt the neglected brick relic had become a dangerous eyesore. It hasn’t been used by railroad employees for years, and recently a group of kids broke through a boarded entrance and started a fire in one of the rooms.

"It’s a shame that it couldn’t be saved and re-purposed," said Cory Van Brookhoven, president of the Lititz Historical Foundation. "I am aware of several Lititz residents who had some great ideas for reuse. It’s a lost treasure."

Van Brookhoven was on the scene when the demolition crew began work, hoping to salvage a few bricks and the building’s 1921 date stone.

"We are still in talks to receive the date stone," he said. "If we do receive it, we plan to put it on display with a write-up on the history of the structure."

Local historian Ron Reedy is among those who will miss the physical reminder of Lititz’s railroad era. His father, former Lititz Mayor Raymond Reedy, worked in the Water Street building.

"A sad day for Lititz, and also for me personally," he said. "It is where my father had his first job after graduating from Lititz High School in 1923. On occasions, many years after he left employment with the Reading Company, he would visit the station, often taking me along, to say hello and reminisce with his former fellow co-workers.

"The freight station was the last remaining of the three stations that were built in Lititz that served the once mighty and powerful Reading Railroad System. After 150 years, other than the tracks, the ‘Golden Era’ of the Reading and Columbia Railroad is now history."

Throughout the week, readers emailed photos and comments to the Record Express.

"It’s a real shame something couldn’t have been done with that building," said Steve Bartle, who lives in the nearby Pilgerhaus condos. "Hopefully something can be rebuilt with the bricks that were in that building originally. From our vantage point on our balcony, we could see the building coming down. It was a sad sight."

Nostalgia aside, some felt the building was just too far gone.

"I think it’s a good idea (demolition)," said Charlie Shirk, retired railroad conductor, during a Tuesday morning coffee interview. "It’s in bad shape. I don’t think it could have been saved."

Shirk started working for the Reading company in 1974, and continued through the Conrail and Norfolk-Southern phases of ownership until his retirement in 2005. He used to pick up his paycheck at the Water Street depot, from an agent named Greenburg (he vaguely recalls), long before the days of direct deposit. Of the three companies that signed his checks, he said Reading was his favorite.

Back to 2013…

As the last bricks of the western wall come crashing down this week, the borough government needs to look forward, through the lens of its comprehensive development plan.

"I’m truly disappointed that the building has been lost," said Lititz Borough Council President Karen Weibel in a Tuesday email. "The borough was diligent in its efforts, including hiring a structural engineer to survey the depot, and offering to buy or lease the property. It’s unfortunate that Norfolk-Southern was unwilling to sell the property, or formulate a building lease that would have allowed a reuse of the site. Having said that, it must be understood that the rail in that area is considered an active line, which raises liability and customer service concerns.

"So, it’s time to move on. When it became clear last year that the building would be demolished, the borough began working to move freight operations to the west side of South Broad Street, thus paving the way for new development in the future. A future connection to the rail-trail in Warwick Township would also be included. This is not a short term project, and will require focus and effort for quite some time. Many of the goals of our downtown and regional plans will be met when the project comes to fruition."

While the prospective future here may be bright, Norfolk-Southern typically does not comment on real estate matters.

"We don’t have anything to share right now," Pidgeon said on behalf of the property owner.

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