Founded by Jeremiah Smith in 1849, Union City was born out of the railroad era. Union City was a “grand center to all roads being the point of conjunction of the two great thoroughfares, perhaps the greatest and most extensive in the state or even in the country… as stated in the History of Randolph County, Indiana by E. Tucker published in 1882. The pioneer road in this area was the Bee Line and went from Indianapolis to Bellefontaine, although the Dayton Union Railroad was the first railroad completed to Union City in 1852. Eventually there were five radiating tracks and 16 passengers and 22 freight trains reaching or leaving daily “this grand center of railway traffic and travel.”
At the height of its activity, the city boasted a passenger depot, freight warehouse, an extensive roundhouse, as well as a telegraph office.
James Whitcomb Riley, the Hoosier poet and some-time resident of Union City wrote that Union City was “that fussy old-hen-of-a-town, forever checking over its little brood of railroads as though worried to see them running over the line and bristling with importance of its charge.”
Railroads as a method of transportation realized their demise as new methods of travel become increasingly popular, and so, the importance of Union City as a railroad nucleus gradually faded into history.
Through the efforts of the Art Association of Randolph County, Inc. the legacy of Union City’s importance as a railroad center has been revived. The Union City Passenger Depot is the only railroad building still in existence from the years when the city was indeed the hub of Indiana and Ohio.
What stories the 1913 Depot could tell if it could talk! It might tell of visits by Warren G. Harding and James Whitcomb Riley, a whistle-stop by Harry Truman or the campaigning William Howard Taft in 1909. All persons who performed in the Union City’s Grand Theater also probably went through the passenger Depot.
For years the Art Association had longed for a home for the arts. That dream was realized when the city offered to lease the structure to the art group to restore with option to purchase at the end of the 10-year lease.
Restoration began in 1980 at an estimated cost of approximately $60,000. Before the restoration could begin, however, the Depot had to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places to ensure funding through grants. To qualify the building had to have a quality of significance, archeology and culture. Although it took two years to accomplish, the structure was finally named to the National Register of Historic Places.
The restoration process was divided into several phases. As monies were available, the group moved into each new phase of restoration, which included such things as a heating system, insulation, storm windows, tract lighting to the final phase of landscaping and outdoor lighting.
In May of 1986 the Art Associations Depot restoration project received State honors. The project was designated one of four outstanding grant projects by the Department of Natural Resources.
Since its founding in 1954 the major activity of the Art Association had been the annual art show, but with the restoration of the Depot becoming a reality, the association expanded their interests beyond the visual arts to include performances by dance, drama, and musical groups. Today the calendar includes an event nearly every month. A permanent art collection of purchase awards is now housed in the depot. The dream of this vision to encourage arts in the community has grown until now the city has an Art Gallery, Artisan Loop, Art Hub, 5 antique shops and a very complete skyline of old buildings.
This Saturday, August 12 is second Saturday Market. Come early and enjoy the day in historic Union City. Produce, food, handmade items, gift ideas. All begins at 9 a.m. til ? This all takes place on North Columbia St., Union City, Indiana. Call 765 964 4451 with any questions.
While in town, shop around and look at the buildings, and other shops. Volunteer today. What have you done for your hometown?
P. S. Don’t forget about the upcoming Arts Festival, September 8, 9 and 10.
Linda DeHaven is the new author of the weekly column Union City News for The Daily Advocate. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.