New depot along GM&O?

Pictured is a former GM&O Railroad depot in Columbia  which would serve as the model for a proposed museum/rest stop project along the GM&O Heritage Trail.

What began seven years ago with an idea to install a restroom along the GM&O Heritage Trail led to the creation of a non-profit seeking to build a model of one of the original Columbia depots along the old railroad line to be used as a museum and rest stop for trail users.

“What better place for it but at the site of the former depot at the East Locust Street crossing?” said Joe Sander, founder of nonprofit organization Friends of the Columbia IL Depot. 

“As I thought more about this, the idea evolved into more than just a restroom facility into ‘why not just rebuild the depot as it once was and also use it as a museum for the City of Columbia?’” Sander continued. “I was aware that there were many artifacts in town with private citizens such as old business signs and photographs of old Columbia, that had no place to be shared.”

Sander founded the nonprofit “for the sole purpose of soliciting funds and volunteers to rebuild the depot.”

Sander said the group, which includes board members Bill Seibel, Bob Niemietz and Gene Ebersohl, plans to use old photographs and historical railroad documents to rebuild the train depot to its original dimensions and appearance.  

“We will use modern materials so it is as maintenance-free as possible and to withstand the test of time. There will be a restroom on the property and drinking fountains. We are also considering including some bike repair services such as an inflation station,” Sander said.

He also pointed out that if it is rebuilt, Columbia will be one of the few Southern Illinois towns with a depot on the path of the historic Mobile & Ohio/Gulf, Mobile & Ohio rail line. 

“Currently the only remaining stations are in Millstadt (a food pantry), Waterloo (a thrift store), Sparta (Misselhorn Art Museum), Murphysboro (under restoration), Jonesboro (public library) and Tamms (City Hall),” Sander said.

He also pointed out successful restored or rebuilt depot projects in the area.

“Edwardsville and Nashville have meticulously restored their original stations. Mascoutah moved theirs to their city park and O’Fallon rebuilt theirs and made it a centerpiece of their original downtown business district,” Sanders said. 

Now, with the help of board members the project is on the verge of a breakthrough in adding Columbia to the list of depot towns.

Sander recently spoke during a meeting of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce. 

In addition to sharing his personal connection to the railroad – he grew up near the GM&O tracks on the south end of Columbia and his grandfather was a rail man in Dupo – he said the non-profit is now in a position to possibly purchase property for the project, but it is in need of additional funds to make the plan a reality.

“I have had offers rejected but now have a counter offer from the current owners, but our organization is short $75,000 to complete the property purchase,” Sander told the Republic-Times

Those interested in donating to the project may email

Learn more about the nonprofit by finding Friends of the Columbia IL Depot on Facebook.

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Scott Woodsmall

HTC web