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Florence Historical Society member has hopes for preservation of Santa Fe Depot

Staff writer

According to Bob Rusk of Wichita, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad has agreed to donate the former Santa Fe Depot in Florence to the Florence Historical Society. He said the timing of the transfer is uncertain.

Judy Mills, president of FHS, said the organization attempted to obtain the building a number of years ago but the requirements that came with it were overwhelming, and the idea was abandoned.

She said the society is letting Rusk proceed with the project to see if there is enough interest to make it work.

His wife, the former Diane Waner, grew up on a farm east of Florence and graduated from Florence High School.

Diane has a nephew who is in charge of all building structures owned by BNSF in Kansas. He informed Rusk that the railroad planned to demolish the building.

That was unacceptable to Rusk. He began making an effort to save the building and was successful in persuading the railroad to donate it to the historical society.

Rusk and his wife maintain ties to Florence. They still own the farm where Diane grew up and spend time there. The land is leased.

Rusk has high hopes for the depot.

“At this point, we are in the dreaming stage,” he said. “My dream is to restore the building.”

He said the brick structure is in reasonably good shape. It has passenger and freight sections that are separate from each other, each with its own outside entrance.

He has visions of connecting the depot to the Harvey House Historical Museum with a walkway and park. The two buildings are on either side of a dike protecting the city from flood water. Each building can be seen from the other.

According to a survey of the area, the depot is not in a flood plain. Therefore, he thinks a path could be cut through the dike between the two buildings.

The two buildings are linked historically. The Harvey House Museum is part of Fred Harvey’s original Florence restaurant and hotel that was located along the tracks and served railroad passengers from 1878 to 1900.

“I’m enthusiastic about restoring the depot,” Rusk said. “It will take some work and will be expensive, but it could be a little something that could turn the town around.”

According to Neva Robinson, a Florence historian, the original depot burned in February 1904. The existing structure may have been built the same year.

By preserving the depot, the city of Florence would have a lasting memory of the early days in which it was a major railroad hub.

Rusk plans to undertake a fundraising drive early this summer for money to do necessary repairs on the building. Fliers will be posted and letters will be mailed requesting donations.

Community members are asked to submit names and addresses of people who may be interested in contributing. Names may submitted to Bob Rusk by e-mail: bobr@tiottousa.com, or mail at 7324 Greenbriar Circle, Wichita KS 67226; or Mary Jane Grimmett by e-mail: mjgl@kans.com, or mail at 414 W. 8th St., Florence KS 66851.

Last modified March 31, 2010

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