Garden Club decorates historic depot for 27th Hometown Christmas

NILES — As passengers at the Niles Amtrak train station boarded their trains amidst swirling snowflakes Monday morning, members of the Four Flags Area Garden Club worked to spread a little holiday cheer at the historic depot.

With Christmas lights, wreaths, ribbons and decorated topiaries, the club decorated the train station for the Christmas season for the 27th year in a row. The volunteers’ work also helps to dress up the train station for the annual Hometown Christmas celebration, which will take place from 5 to 6 p.m. Saturday, at the station, 598 Dey St. in Niles.

The festivities will include a chance to visit with Santa Claus and eat homemade cookies. Mayor Nick Shelton will also be in attendance to address the crowd. A countdown and lighting ceremony will take place as the outside of the depot becomes aglow with Christmas lights. Additionally, a raffle will give away two round-trip Amtrak tickets from Niles to Chicago.

The event is free and open to the public and typically draws hundreds out to the historic station to take part in the tradition.

Karen Persa, the media coordinator for the Four Flags Garden Club, said she hopes the event is an opportunity for families to spend some time together and make memories.

“There’s a following of people that enjoy this so much and they look forward to it every year,” Persa said. “A big part of it is that we want children to be here to enjoy Santa.”

Persa has volunteered to decorate and help with Hometown Christmas for the past 20 years. Formerly from Chicago, Persa said she saw many historic buildings destroyed to make way for modern construction developments. When she moved to Niles and saw the Amtrak station, she felt she had found a little piece of the Windy City and wanted to join forces with the garden club to preserve and protect it.

“You just can’t help yourself because of the beauty of the historic building,” Persa said. “I’m not really a gardener, but I fell in love with the building and the rest came along with it.”

The holiday tradition got its start in 1991, when a scene from the movie “Only the Lonely” was filmed at the depot. Christmas lights adorned the station to give it a holiday look and the decorations were left behind when the movie wrapped up. The Four Flags Garden Club’s fundraising efforts have helped to keep the lights burning since then. In 2010, the lights were replaced with LED energy efficient bulbs.

Those who frequent the station have taken note of garden club members’ efforts at the depot, which includes year-round efforts to beautify the station and its grounds.

For Van Washington, an Amtrak station mechanic of 18 years, the depot decoration brightens his daily work each holiday season. 

“They do a wonderful job around here, as well as with the floor arrangement and the landscaping” Washington said. “It’s a labor of love.”

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