Rail Guys

Larry Powers, right, a member of the Port Orange Historical Trust and president of the Port Orange Railway Society, stands with fellow member and Vice President Bill Bates at the old Port Orange Train Depot on Herbert Street.

The recently formed Port Orange Railway Society Inc. is dedicated to the restoration and preservation of the Port Orange Florida East Coast Railroad Depot.

The society's volunteers' vision is to educate the public and create a learning center dedicated to preserving the railroad history of East Volusia County and the FEC railway.

The depot at 415 Herbert St. in Port Orange was originally built in 1894 as two buildings, but were joined together as a passenger station in 1924. Regular passenger service stopped in 1932. In 1938, the building was remodeled to its current appearance and continued to be used as a freight depot until 1964.

The depot was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places on February 5, 1998. In 2015 the City of Port Orange bought the depot with the intent to restore the building.

Larry Powers, a member of the Port Orange Historical Trust and president of the Port Orange Railway Society, said, “I’m a model railroader to start with. I have family up in Jonesborough, Tenn., and just started going around looking at the old depots around there. I discovered a website and found out I have a depot right here in Port Orange. I didn’t know it was here until 2015 when the city bought it and they put an article in the paper.

“The first goal is to preserve the outside of it and put it back as it was in 1938,” Mr. Powers said. “We’re trying to get organized. We had to start from scratch. Our initial meeting for our group was March 1. We had to incorporate the group first (as a nonprofit).

The little depot was just a small part of Henry Flagler’s empire, he said. “This is one of the few buildings left in Port Orange that’s a public building from the 19th century. It deserves to be saved and made into a place where where people can come and enjoy it. If you think about this neighborhood, this is the historic neighborhood. We hope this will maybe be the catalyst for developing a historic district here in Port Orange as much as we can, because all the historic buildings are around here.”

He added, “We want to create a venue where history buffs and rail fans can come and hang out here and be comfortable and celebrate the history of the Florida East Coast Railway in Volusia County. Also, a little bit of Port Orange history, too. That building was very important to the development of Port Orange.”

The group hopes to have a museum on the site in the future and possibly other amenities run by volunteers.

Bill Bates, the society's vice president, said his family has always been railroad fans and he has access to 16 mm films, including a passenger train delivering mail in Port Orange circa 1938.

“I have always been wanting to preserve my grandfather’s films and putting them out where they needed to go,” Mr. Bates said. “Happenstance I ran across the Port Orange Depot site and offered up the films, became a member.

“This is the last piece of Florida East Coast Railroad history sitting in Volusia County,” he said. “This organization is doing what they can to preserve it. It’s always important to preserve our history. You lose the history; you lose who you are.”

The society and City of Port Orange are in discussions to look at a possible partnership. The city bought the depot with ECHO grant money.

Exactly what is going to happen is still up in the air, said Alan Rosen, Port Orange assistant city manager.

“Nothing is solidified, yet,” Mr. Rosen said. “We don’t have any set agreement with them yet, but we are working towards it. We’re looking at different grants to see if we can get more money (to do the projects discussed).”

Ideally the depot could become a museum with the city owning the property and the society running it as a nonprofit group.

The society needs sponsors and members to help preserve the building. Photos or videos of the depot or neighboring depots also are being sought. The society's next meeting will be at 1 p.m. Sunday, April 5, at the Port Orange Regional Library auditorium. For more information, visit podepot.org.

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