Why restore the Sutherland Depot?


The railroad built the depot in Sutherland in 1894. The depot was originally located southwest of where Maline’s Super Foods is presently located. When the new highway bridges were built south of Sutherland in 1914, it was moved to the north side of the tracks where the Sutherland Railroad Park is located, just east of Spruce Street.

The building was a 22’ x 50’ frame structure with a stone foundation. The depot had a waiting room, agent-telegraph room, and a freight room. The depot was painted white with the town name and elevation of 2959 painted on the ends. The water tower was just west of the building and the coaling station was across the tracks and slightly west of the depot.

The depot was the center of activity for anything requiring travel or transport in the early days. In 1898 and for several years, if you wanted your laundry done you could take it to the depot on the 13th and 27th of the month and it would be sent to the North Platte Steam Laundry and be returned to you. Cream and other dairy products were shipped by rail from the depot freight office. Creameries in Sutherland were the Beatrice Creamery which was located on what is now Walnut Street. Freight, mail, and passenger services were provided into the 1960’s.

With the end of passenger service in the late 60’s the depot was used for freight service only.The depot served the community until 1971 when the Agency in Sutherland was closed. The depot was closed on March 11, 1971, and was purchased for use as a Community Center and was moved to a lot on Second Street between Maple and Walnut. The Community Center never developed and in July of 1978, the depot was purchased at public auction by Rick and Sharon Parr for $650.The building was moved to Parr’s I-80 Sports Spot at the Interstate 80 and Highway 25 exit and restoration begun. A small restaurant in the former baggage room was to be the main attraction. Antique wooden cafĂ© booths with high backs were installed. A foyer for the restaurant in the old ticket office contained remembrances of the past. Eventually the restaurant was discontinued and an antiques operation carried on in the Depot.

In the mid 1990’s, Parr’s sold the service station, and the Depot was again sold at auction and moved to a foundation on a rural road just south and west of Sutherland. Originally the idea was to create a rural restaurant in the building, but the project never developed.

Present Day
The Sutherland Depot has been donated to the Village of Sutherland by the current owner, for use as a tourist attraction and community center. It has been inspected by construction specialists and ruled sound.

When the Village of Sutherland purchased the former Saxton’s Fruit Stand property near the west edge of town for use as additional parking for the swimming pool and ball fields, included in the property was more than 600 feet of land between the historic Lincoln Highway and the railroad tracks.

Famous trainspotting venues such as the Folkston Funnel, the Tehachapi Depot and the Rochelle Railroad Park see far fewer trains than pass through Sutherland. The Folkston Funnel boasts 60 trains per day, the Rochelle Railroad Park touts 80 to 90 trains each day. While these attractions have fewer trains, what they have done well is offer services to entice the rail fans to their sites – great viewing platforms, historical displays, live radio transmissions of railroad traffic among others.

With the imminent opening of the Birdwood overpass, the Highway 30 corridor from Sutherland to North Platte, with its myriad train spotting opportunities, will be the natural route for rail fans to take to visit the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center.In Sutherland, they will be able to take advantage of the Highway 25 overpass, get great quartering shots from the pedestrian overpass, and sit on the patio at the restored Depot and watch the trains pass. From there, they can travel east to the triangle that brings trains in from the “branch”, then on to North Platte and Bailey Yard, the Golden Spike Tower and other railroad attractions such as the Lincoln County Historical Museum and the Cody Park Railroad Display and further east to Brady’s buttermilk curves.

We anticipate developing the Sutherland Depot along the lines of the Tehachapi, California restored Southern Pacific Depot.

Highway 30 and Interstate 80 are America’s “Main Streets”. These two transportation corridors transport million of people across the country every day. In order to thrive, small towns have to offer a reason for people to slow down, stop, and spend some time (and money) in our communities.

By restoring the historic Depot, we will have a tourist attraction that will appeal to rail fans and cultural and heritage tourists. A restored depot will show the world that we care about our heritage, that we are proud of our hometown, and that we are a welcoming place to stop.

According to the Nebraska Tourism Commission, each time a traveling party stops at an attraction, they will spend an additional half day in the area and  spend an additional $104. With an attraction of this caliber in Sutherland, they may spend those dollars at Maline’s Super Foods, Sutherland Sportsman’s Cove, Hi-Line Co-Op, Sno-White, The Longhorn Bar or Ozzie’s.

Having visitors stop for this attraction will allow us to tell them about the Sutherland Reservoir, the Sutherland Oregon Trail Golf Course, the Flatrock Riders ATV/UTV course, the historic Oregon Trail/Pony Express/Mormon Trail sites and the historic Sutherland State-Aid Bridge.

Giving our community pride a focal point such as the restored Depot will spur economic development and generate interest in the vacant storefronts along Main Street, and will give our children a reason to be proud of their community when they are making the decision whether or not to return home.

Rail Fans
Railfanning is attracting a new type of enthusiast to the fold – young people who are using emerging technologies to post photos and videos online to share among other rail fans. The Sutherland Depot will be developed with these new rail fans in mind, while offering quality viewing to all demographics of rail fans.

Railfans are predominantly male (98%), mostly under 50 years of age (53%) and had an average income of between US$41,000 and $80,000.Railfans tend to commit to this hobby for most of their adult lives (averaging 35 years). They spend a great deal of time on the activity, on average taking pictures or watching trains approximately 22 times per month.

When railfanning, 47% of respondents indicated that their preference was to railfan alone. Among the other 53% who undertook the activity with someone else, 32% of the total favored the company of other railfans and 21% preferred to go with their family. Accompanying family members tended to visit local attractions or go retail shopping while the respondent was railfanning.

The railfans incorporate railfanning as part of their vacation regardless of the primary purpose. However they select specific railfan destinations based on three criteria: the number of trains that can be viewed within a 24-hour period; a unique view from which to photograph and watch trains; and the variety of railroads at one location. The vast majority (over 93%) of respondents were willing to travel at least three hours to get to a railfan destination, with 54% of these willing to travel six or more hours. While at railfan destinations, they almost exclusively engaged in railfanning, but they also visited local attractions and occasionally went shopping. Based on responses, the following characteristics of railfan vacations were determined:
  • The average distance traveled was 1200 miles.
  • There was an average of five people involved per trip.
  • The average number of days spent on vacation was 6.84
  • The average amount spent was $1447.
This research illustrates the potential of this niche market for communities that possess the favorable attributes for railfans, and developing a railfan park offers one option.

Further, a Chicago Tribune newspaper article shows that, far from dying out, transpotters are growing younger and more technologically savvy.“With the help of Internet tools including Facebook, YouTube and Flickr, crowds of teens and 20-somethings meet online and gather with lawn chairs at dusk at otherwise sleepy stations across Chicago’s suburbs.

There they collect video footage and still images that draw thousands of online views. Some of the images have been picked up by railroad lines and popular rail magazines, which pay hundreds of dollars for unique shots. Other rail watchers are making hundreds of dollars a month posting videos of trains on YouTube.”

Cultural and Heritage Tourism
Heritage tourism is a cost-effective approach for Nebraska because it represents an asset-based economic development strategy that builds on Nebraska’s existing assets and resources. An investment in heritage tourism helps build a sense of pride of place, making Nebraska a better place to live, a better place to locate a business, and a better place to visit.

“Nebraska became an American path of travel. The Missouri River was a corridor of exploration and commerce, and the broad Platte River valley proved to be a natural highway for fur traders and later for emigrants on the California, Oregon, and Mormon trails. New generations of transportation followed the Platte: the short-lived Pony Express (1860-61), the transcontinental railroad, which linked the nation in 1869, the Lincoln Highway (1913), and today’s Interstate 80.”

A report based on a 2011 study of heritage tourism in Nebraska by the UNL Bureau of Business Research and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, found that Heritage Tourism:
  • Generates more than $196 million annually
  • Supports over 3,010 jobs in the state
  • Results in $16.4 million in state and local tax revenue annually.

It is estimated that the first phase of this project will cost nearly $70,000. This includes preparing a foundation, moving it from its location (via Paxton) to Sutherland, installing a new roof and repairing windows and repairing, replacing and painting the siding.

We have received a grant in the amount of $30,000. Much of the labor involved in this project can be accomplished with volunteers, and we will be seeking additional fundraising.Once this first phase is accomplished, plans will be drawn up to complete the project, including utilities and mechanical systems, restoring the interior and developing the train viewing platform.

How to Help
Please contact the Sutherland Village Board of Trustees and let them know you support this project. You can leave a message for them at the Village Clerk’s office, 308-386-4721.

You can make donations for this project at the Village Clerks office in care of the Sutherland Growth Committee.

You can volunteer your time by contacting Muriel Clark, 308-386-8257 or by email at nebraskaoutback@gmail.com.

For more information about the project, ask to receive a full copy of the grant application.


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