Most Saline residents are familiar with the Depot Museum, a legacy of the railroad that once passed through our town. However they may know less about the Detroit, Hillsdale and Indiana Line that was built here not long after the Civil War.
The first train pulled into Saline Depot on July 4, 1870 amidst great celebration. Trains carried passengers back and forth all day between Ypsilanti and Saline commemorating the start of what was hoped to be a great new enterprise.
The name of the railroad represented the plan to extend the track from Ypsilanti (with connections to Detroit) to Logansport Indiana, an important railroad hub at the time. Instead, it was only completed from Ypsilanti to what became the town of Bankers, a place just a few miles southwest of Hillsdale. Along the way it passed through Saline, Bridgewater, Manchester, Brooklyn, Hillsdale and other villages.
The train was to be a great boon to Saline. It provided a way to ship farm produce and other products to distant markets. The village ponied up $18,000 toward its construction, well over $300,000 in today’s dollars. Saline businessman W. H. Davenport was on the board of directors.
However, the new railroad’s success was complicated by political machinations, a financial depression and competition between railroad barons. After only five years, the line was foreclosed. A single bidder was able to purchase it for less than the value of Saline’s original contribution. It became the Detroit, Hillsdale and Southwestern.
The new company did not fare much better. It lasted until 1881 when the line was leased to the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern. The yellow LS & MS logo painted on the caboose at the Depot Museum represents this line.
More changes followed. With a merger in 1914 the line became part of the New York Central Railroad. The last passenger service was in 1931 and the tracks began to be dismantled in the 1960s.
Although the line has been closed for so many years, it can still be followed along most of its 65-mile path by satellite imagery such as on Google Maps. It is often less evident at ground level.
In a few places, the right of way became part of public non-motorized paths, such as the Library-Brecon Trail in Saline and a part of the Washtenaw County Border to Border Trail in Ypsilanti. In most places, the land is now privately owned and jealously guarded.
Power lines and telephone lines have been built along the path in many places. Some roads were built on the old right of way. A nearby example is Williamsburg on the River Road off of Dell Road west of Saline.
In several places depot buildings remain. Sometimes place names reveal the former presence of the railroad, such as Huckleberry Party Store in Ypsilanti, named for “the Huckleberry Line,” a nickname once applied to this stretch of tracks.
Don Maddock of Ypsilanti, an officer of the Ann Arbor Railroad Technical and Historical Association, has researched the history of the line. He has written a detailed account in two editions (Vol. 29, No. 2 and Vol. 30, No. 1) of the publication, “The Double A.”
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