This week in Detroit history: First train leaves Michigan Central Station

Fire forced depot to open early

Michigan Central Station (Amber Ainsworth/WDIV)
Michigan Central Station (Amber Ainsworth/WDIV)

DETROIT – The first train rolled out of Michigan Central Station on Dec. 26, 1913.

The locomotive was headed to Saginaw Bay, and a train from Chicago arrived at the new station later that evening.

Michigan Central was originally scheduled to open in 1914, but a fire at the old depot at Third and Jefferson avenues forced the station to open early.

MORE: A brief history of Michigan Central Station

“The new station stood last night, lights shining from windows high above the building line in the neighborhood, a sentinel of progress,” the Detroit Tribune published after the station’s rushed opening.

A newspaper quote from when Michigan Central Station first opened in 1913 is projected on the front of the building on June 15, 2018. (WDIV)

The rise and fall

The large building in Corktown became a symbol known around the world, as travelers came and left Detroit. However, the station would eventually fall victim to decreased train traffic and become a less desirable symbol of decay in the city.

The main waiting room was closed in April of 1967. Amtrak would later take over the station in 1971, reopen the waiting room and pour more than $1 million into renovating MCS. This renovation included the addition of a bus terminal.

The train station was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

Still, the station's use was on a decline, and Amtrak decided to find a smaller station instead of remaining in the massive depot. In 1985, the building was sold to a New York-based company, Kaybee Corp.

MCS ceased to serve as a transportation hub when the last Chicago-bound train departed the station on Jan. 5, 1988.

Plans for the building consistently fell through, and it became a place for vandals, homeless people and urban explorers.

Its windows were smashed out and it was gutted by scrappers.

The video below is a segment from 1991, as the station started its descent toward decay.

New hope

Ford Motor Co. announced it had purchased the train station in the summer of 2018.

Since then, the automaker has been pouring money into the depot, with intentions of moving its autonomous vehicle team into the building as part of a development that will include other buildings.

Ford is planning on creating a campus that will consist of about 1.2 million square feet of property in Corktown. The mixed-use space will feature office space, retail space and residential housing.

While efforts are underway to revitalize the building, Ford has said it plans to try to restore the depot to its former glory. It has turned to artifacts that were stolen and returned for inspiration, and it said original limestone will be used.

A clock stolen from Michigan Central Station was returned to Ford shortly after it was announced that the automaker purchased the building. (Photo: Ford)