PHOTO STORY: Niles Amtrak depot gets dressed for Christmas

Published 8:59 am Tuesday, December 1, 2020

NILES — Opening plastic tubs and boxes full of decorations, looking for just the right ones, is an adventure every year when preparing for the holidays. Finding and testing the strings of lights and making sure the Christmas tree is watered with branches relaxed, ready to be decorated are all rituals for those who decorate for Christmas.

It was no different Monday morning for members of the Four Flags Garden Club, as they dressed the Niles Amtrak Depot, at 598 Dey St., up for the holiday season.

Making the train station merry and bright has been a tradition each year for the Four Flags Garden Club. This year, the club’s 29th year decorating the station, was done so without the usual Hometown Christmas event scheduled to welcome the community to the lighting of the station.

Seven members of the club, including Lynn Sobecki and Karen Persa, were pulling out décor from the several tubs sitting on the benches in the station. All members were decked out in Christmas themed or colored sweaters, and wore face masks, in a sight that has become increasingly familiar through 2020.

As they draped the lights on the Christmas tree in the station, Sobecki took a vote of the members as to which star to seat atop the live Christmas tree donated from Pinecrest Christmas Tree Farm in Galien. The members agreed on a golden star for this year. She climbed the ladder, and had a fellow member brace the ladder as she placed it atop the tree, in a ceremony familiar to families who decorate their own trees.

Sobecki said the club had decorated the outside on Sunday afternoon.

“We put greenery in the windows and garlands outside,” she said.

Sobecki has been heading up the Hometown Christmas celebration for the last four to five years. The event was canceled this year due to COVID-19 precautions and concerns about gathering a crowd to celebrate the lights being turned on, singing carols, hearing a speech from the mayor and a visit from Santa.

This week, there will be no event to switch the Christmas decorations on, but rather, the lights will be a surprise to residents.

“They will light the lights sometime this week,” Sobecki said.

The Four Flags Garden Club has been decorating the Amtrak Niles Depot for 29 years, when it took on the task of maintaining the gardens for the station as well. According to Persa, the last scene of “Only the Lonely,” a John Candy film from 1991, was filmed at the Niles Amtrak Depot in the summer. The depot was decorated with lights and fake snow on the ground to create a Christmas scene, and many Niles residents served as “stand ins” for the film.

The studio left the lights behind after it was finished filming. The Four Flags Garden Club, along with community members, campaigned to “Keep the Lights Burning.” The lights were not usable without a power source, as the film studio used portable generators. After fundraising for rewiring the depot to continue using the lights, 29 years and a few sets of lights later, the station continues to be lit each year for the holidays.

The train station was built in 1892, and includes a fireplace with mantle, wooden benches for passengers waiting for their departure or arrival of a loved one, and a rounded area with high ceilings that allows light to come through and glow out into the night.

The décor will stay up in the train depot until the first Monday in January.