"I think I can. I think I can."
At times during the last five years, Lawrence residents who worked on the Save the Depot Committee must have felt like the "Little Engine That Could" as they chugged toward the goal of preserving the century-old building.
The announcement Wednesday that the Union Pacific Railroad would allow its depot in North Lawrence to remain at its present location and would deed the building over to the city has brought the committee efforts to the top of the hill. Now, with the help of local residents, the depot-saving effort should gain speed and complete a successful journey.
During ceremonies Wednesday, Mayor Bob Schumm aptly characterized the Save the Depot effort as "a great lesson in perseverence." The first goal of the Save the Depot group was simply to stop the planned demolition of the historic building, which had once been such a vital hub of activity in Lawrence. That accomplished, the group was faced with the seemingly impossible task of moving the depot to a new location. A plan to move the building across the Kansas River was discarded as impractical. Another plan to move the depot just 90 feet also appeared to be floundering.
But despite obstacles, the depot committee refused to give up on the project.
In the end, UP officials simply reversed their decision. What was an ironclad requirement five years ago suddenly disappeared. Five years ago, the UP said there was no way the depot could be used as a community center at its present location. Nearby tracks, they said, made it impossible to insure the safety of people going to and from the building. But now, officials say, a fence will solve the problem and the depot can stay where it is. It's difficult to tell whether Union Pacific really changed its mind, whether its safety concerns weren't really that serious in the first place or whether it simply grew weary of dealing with the determined Lawrence group.
Historic Union Pacific depots in other towns were torn down almost without notice, but not in Lawrence. The difference here was a group willing to keep buying a little more time for the ill-fated depot until it could breathe new life into the project.
The perseverance has paid off. Fund-raising efforts and renovation work remain, but it now seems that Lawrence can look forward to enjoying and using a true Lawrence landmark for many years to come.