Minnesota History: Building A Legacy

Persistence Brings Assistance for Princeton’s Great Northern Depot

Workers inspecting Great Northern Depot's roof

Legacy-funded roof restoration
work was completed fall 2014

Legacy funds are helping preserve the Great Northern Depot, Princeton’s major historic building and home to the Mille Lacs County Historical Society (MLCHS).

The brick and stone architectural and historical gem is one of three depots designed in a combination of Dutch and Queen Anne styles by architect J. C. Patterson for the Great Northern Railway about 1902. The other two depots, in Litchfield, MN, and Bellingham, WA, were long gone by the time the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota named the Princeton Great Northern Depot to its Ten Most Endangered List in 2010.

A deteriorating and leaking cedar shake roof (thought to be the third in the life of the 112-year-old building) was the cause of the Great Northern Depot’s perilous state. The depot is the major historic building in Princeton and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is owned by MLCHS. All of its archives, newspaper files, microfilm, photos, artifacts, and exhibits are located beneath the compromised roof.

Knowing that the integrity of the roof is key to the building’s survival, MLCHS applied for Legacy funds to replace the roof. MNHS staff recommended that first an architectural assessment be done. A small Legacy grant in 2012 funded the assessment by an architectural firm that outlined specific repairs needed for the roof, all in compliance with the Secretary of the Interior’s National Register standards.

Persistence paid off when paperwork was signed in mid-2014 for a $245,685 Legacy grant that funds the historically correct replacement of the Great Northern Depot’s roof.

Also included in the project grant was funding to repair brick, stone, mortar and flashing on the building’s roof line, along with installation of gutters and downspouts to direct water away from the foundation. The work was completed in fall 2014.

The Great Northern Depot is the oldest public building standing in Princeton. The depot was the transportation hub of the Princeton area until the 1960s. Passenger service ended in 1952; freight service ended in 1981.

Though railroad days have ended, the depot continues to be an important part of the life of the community. The former freight house of the depot, now called the Great Northern Room, serves as the polling place during elections and is used frequently by the public for meetings and celebrations. The site receives more than 2,500 visitors each year, from past and present residents to tourists, train enthusiasts to Scout troops, genealogy researchers to summer concert goers.

And the work continues. MLCHS received a second small Legacy grant in 2014: $5,800 to hire an engineer to evaluate the current heating, ventilating, and air conditioning system, in preparation for more efficient control of the museum’s temperature and humidity environment.