Going in Style
When a popular park in Chesterton needed public restrooms and gathering space, local residents engineered a creative solution, repurposing a historic boxcar and train caboose to solve the public need and honor local railroad heritage at the same time.
The project began in 2015 with plans by the Town Park Board to build much-needed permanent bathroom facilities in Thomas Centennial Park at the intersection of Broadway and Calumet Road, where Chesterton hosts many of its public events.
The addition of the restored boxcar and caboose builds on the rich railroad heritage located along the still-active rail line. Top among them, the former New York Central Railroad Passenger Depot now serves as the headquarters of the Duneland Chamber of Commerce. The New York Central Railroad built the long one-story depot in 1914, employing elements from both the Arts and Crafts movement and the Prairie style, including a hipped clay-tile roof, wide-hanging eaves, and a brick and stucco exterior. The town took ownership of the building in 1966 after passenger services ended, using it first as a police station, then as leased office space before the Chamber relocated in 2001.
Allocations from the Town Park Board covered most of the improvements, but leaders looked to community support to close the gap. They used CreatINg Places, a crowd-funding grant program hosted by the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA) and Patronicity. The program supports place-making projects that have big impacts by matching locally raised funds. Chesterton residents responded with 5,296 donations totaling $46,071 — surpassing the town’s goal by $15,000.
With guidance by local railroad aficionado Richard Riley, the town acquired a 1962 Monon Railroad boxcar from Ohio and a 1950s Norfolk Southern from Michigan City, where they both underwent full restoration. After a grand opening in November, the black and gold boxcar is now open as a fully accessible bathroom facility, and the bright red caboose awaits completion as an activity space that will supplement park activities and serve as a warming and cooling center.
Check out the restored boxcar and caboose during the Duneland Festival of Trees, on display now through January 2 at Centennial Park.
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