Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Industrial Arts

Saturday's arts festival at the C.B.&Q. Freight House reminded me, as it usually does, of what fascinating places both the vintage building and others in the immediate neighborhood are, recalling days when railroading was at the heart of commercial and industrial life in Lucas County.

We have the Lucas County Arts Council to thank for stepping in when no other organization would to save the then-endangered Freight House and marshaling the resources needed to restore it and return it to active life. Under Arts Council ownership, it serves primarily as a public venue for events ranging from meetings and reunions to weddings and receptions. And, of course, for the council's annual arts festival and other sponsored events.

The building is a work of art in itself, as is the neighborhood --- although it's necessary to do a little thinking and a good deal of careful observation to realize that. It's under-appreciated.

The Freight House was built by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad in 1904 at a time when Chariton was a regional distribution (and collection) point for freight and a building like this was needed to process it. Tall roll-up doors on both sides of the building offered rail car access on one side; wagon access on the other. The structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places during 2003.

The administrative space at the south end of the building remains intact with the huge warehousing and processing area behind it adapted with kitchen, restrooms and appropriate lighting to make the entire building suitable for public use. The freight doors still roll up and down, when appropriate, flooding the long room with light from now-glazed openings.

I'm a big fan of the Round Oak Duplex stove in the front office, still prepared to provide heat --- if the flue were extended and attached to a chimney. There's even a telegraph pole still in place along the office facade.

Just to the south is a railside collection of buildings that have their own stories to tell. Commerical buildings just across the street once housed businesses that needed easy rail access; and grain once was loaded into freight cars from the now-unused co-op elevator --- in danger because it can no longer serve its intended function.

Although Johnson Machine Works main production plant is "suburban," located in northwest Chariton, administrative offices, its engineering department and smaller-scale manufacturing operations still are housed in a collection of original and creatively recycled structures grouped east and south of the old elevator.

Next time you're headed to or from the Freight House on North 11th Street, don't just drive through --- take a more careful look.

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