Wakefield's Depot Museum offers unique insight into railroad, Wakefield history

Jim Clark surveys one of the multiple model train displays in the old freight room of Wakefield's Depot Museum. The display in front of Clark has been made to have similarities to the Wakefield community, including a mini version of the depot itself.

In many cases around the country, especially in a rural state like Nebraska, the growth of communities, territories and states are intertwined with the growth of America's  railroads. In Wakefield, a small museum celebrating the town's history with the Chicago and Northwestern rail company and beyond, is a hidden gem.

There's been a depot in the same spot since 1881, according to Jim Clark. With the town came the depot, which was expanded to the building's current size in the mid 1920s. Like many towns, the depot and community grew hand-in-hand. The rail line brought freight and passengers in and out until 1977, when Waldbaums, now Michael Foods, bought the building and used it for trucking dispatch and a storage space until 2006.

Clark, Ken Paulson and a committee then dedicated themselves to preserving the town's history with the Chicago Northwestern line, but also to store a large collection of Wakefield memorabilia from former mayor Merlin "Lefty" Olson.

As far as small town museums go, the Depot has some incredible history, including the original surveying equipment used to establish the community, the depot's phone booth and orders for the final train's trip through the town.

"We've had train enthusiasts come here and they comment on it," Clark said. "The comments run from 'amazing' to 'this is a real jewel, you guys don't know what you have'."

The museum has such a large collection thanks to purchases and donations. One major donor was former Wakefield resident and Chicago Northwestern employee Harold Tell.

"That was his dream to have his stuff displayed in this place. He was the one that kept this open (for so long). One of his jobs was closing the line depots, and this one remained open, because he was from here, as long as he could," Clark said.

Tell's colleagues also donated lots of memorabilia from the rail line. Visitors have come from multiple countries and states, and Clark said the reception since the museum's opening has been very positive, even for people who aren't train enthusiasts.

"Even people that aren't interested in trains necessarily enjoy looking around. You'll see we did model trains, different sizes running," Clark said.

While the museum isn't observing their usual hours on Saturday mornings due to COVID-19, it is open for appointments provided it's not a large crowd wanting to visit. To set up a time to visit, call (402) 375-2355. 

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