Hometown Christmas Saturday at depotPublished 4:55pm Tuesday, November 29, 2011
This weekend’s Hometown Christmas event marks the 20th anniversary of the lighting of the Niles train depot.
The historic depot, currently owned by Amtrak, was built in the 1892 and is considered a landmark of Niles.
“It has a real connection to the community,” said Todd Virgil, ticket agent for Niles Amtrak. “It’s really loved. People come here all the time just to take pictures.”
The Four Flags Garden Club was at the depot Tuesday setting up decorations and trimming the Christmas tree in preparations for Saturday’s event.
The Hometown Christmas celebration runs from 4:30 to 6 p.m., featuring music from Lake Effect Winds and an address by Mayor Mike McCauslin, capped off by the lighting of the depot.
The tradition of decorating the depot for Christmas began in 1990 when a scene for the movie “Only the Lonely,” featuring John Candy, was shot at the depot.
Virgil was working at the depot the two days the scene was being filmed.
“I remember it was extremely cold,” he said, adding that some of the actors, including Candy, would come inside his office to warm up.
“He was a very tall and big guy,” Virgil said of Candy. “Very kind.”
When the filmmakers left Niles, they left the lights, and the Four Flags Garden Club and community members joined together in a campaign to “keep the lights burning,” according to garden club member Karen Persa. The tradition of lighting the depot has been kept every year since.
The lighting has changed over the years, including updating to LED energy efficient bulbs last year.
Saturday’s event will also include refreshments and appearances by community royalty and Santa and Mrs. Claus. There will be a drawing for two round trip Amtrak tickets from Niles to Chicago as well.
If you go…
What: Hometown Christmas
When: Dec. 3, 4:30-6:30 p.m.
Where: Niles Amtrak Depot, 600 Dey St., Niles
Niles Depot fun facts
— The depot was built by the Michigan Central Railroad in 1892 in order to impress passengers making the last stop in Michigan on their way to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
— The depot is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
— Master gardener, John Gipner, created elaborate garden displays at the depot at the turn of the 20th Century, earning Niles the nickname the “Garden City.”
— In the late 1980s, Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation funded a restoration of the building. Only the waiting room and women’s toilet are still used for their original purpose.
— The depot was featured in three major films — “The Continental Divide,” “Midnight Run” and “Only the Lonely.”