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Celebrating National Preservation Month

In honor of May being National Preservation Month, Synthesis looks at our most recent preservation and restoration project, the Milwaukee Depot.

The City of Bedford was designated an Indiana Stellar Community in 2013. This designation and award created a number of city improvement projects, including the preservation, restoration and relocation of the Milwaukee Depot from its original location to a more central downtown placement.

Milwaukee Depot was built as part of the Southern Indiana Railroad in 1899 by John R. Walsh in Bedford, Indiana. Walsh, a banker from Chicago, built the railroad to get Indiana Limestone to market and in the process made it a preferred building product across the Nation. In 1921 the station came under the control of the Milwaukee Road and served family members and loved ones for nearly seven decades as they stood and waved to passengers boarding the trains. The last passenger train to leave the Bedford, Indiana station was on July 15, 1950.

Vacant and outside of the City’s core, the Milwaukee Depot fell into scattered and non-profitable uses, as well as disrepair. It became clear the preservation of the Depot would be dependent upon its relocation nearer the Cities urban core. Time was not in the Depot’s favor, as damage from water infiltration had rotted the roof, floor, and wall construction, some to the point of failure. Renovation of the French tile roof in 2007 slowed the deterioration. However, it was not until the City, the Indiana Department of Transportation, and other parties determined the Depot was eligible for Indiana’s remaining Transportation Enhancement Act funds that it’s future was secured.

The restoration of the Milwaukee Depot saved an iconic and significant piece of Bedford’s history and architecture. Now the Depot has a new life as a focal point for local celebrations, serving as a trail head on the newly built Limestone Trail, offices for the Southern Indiana Geographical and Historical System organization, and home to collections of the Land of Limestone Museum.


After a year of extensive architectural and engineering documentation and preparations, how the depot would be relocated and refurbished was determined. There was significant disrepair throughout the structure, particularly in the floor structure, which challenged the relocation strategy. Second, the funding sources pooled to accommodate the budget were tied to the specific criteria of the Secretary of Interior Standards. The building is listed on the State’s Register of Historic Places and of interest to the Department of Natural Resources. Each entity’s requirements were coordinated and integrated into the final design solution, impacting the options available for planning the move and renovation.

The design team went to great lengths to retain as much of the existing building as possible for preservation or reconstruction prior to the move. The masonry was stabilized, involving replacement of broken stone and lost mortar. Significant and required repairs were made to limestone lintels and sills. Window sashes, and 60% of the aged glass was reclaimed, numbered, and prepared for restoration. Thousands of the surrounding brick pavers were salvaged for reuse at the new site to replicate the feel of its original location.

Doors, frames and much of the historic woodwork were removed from the walls and ceilings to serve as patterns. In order to move the building, the window openings were reinforced, walls were removed, and a new floor structure put into place. The Depot now had a strong, stable diaphragm to help it withstand the stress of being lifted and moved.

The move entailed loading the 130-foot, 350-ton depot building onto 14 hydraulic powered dollies, then maneuvering them four blocks to the new location. Once begun; lifting, loading, moving and positioning the building over its new foundations was accomplished in a few days. The Depot’s trip lasted a mere six hours, with the building set to within a 1/4” of square.

To prepare the building for the physical move, repairs were made to the stone, windows were removed, the openings were reinforced, interiors were removed or stabilized, and beams/cribbing were in put place. During the building preparations, the path of travel also required some attention. The weight of the building had to be considered for its impact on road surfaces and curbs in conjunction with the locations of any impediments such as utility lines. Temporary relocation of utilities, weather, and a narrow window of availability of the specialty hydraulic jacking equipment had to be coordinated. RESTORATION AND NEW SITE

The goal of the building restoration was to restore and re-purpose the historic structure with a site similar to its original home. The new site chosen is adjacent to another rail line in Bedford. The City originally envisioned a heavily planted plaza of trees and grasses, but Indiana’s State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPO) pressed to maintain the open connection between the Depot and the line, incorporating the brick pavers that surrounded the building at its original location. Site features were thus intentionally minimized, leaving an open plaza where city celebrations and other special events now occur.

Window restoration was a key element of the restoration project. The white oak and southern pine units were surprisingly well preserved, with few coats of paint and nearly 60% of the historic glass intact. These units were removed, repaired, re-corded and improved with new weather stripping to remain operable. Awning and transom units were not in favorable condition, but adequate to serve as templates for new replica windows. Enough original hardware remained to serve the central gallery space, and similar units were purchased for the adjoining Boardroom. Other window hardware was recreated from new units to match the original configurations. Exterior doors were replaced in the pattern of the original quarter sawn white oak material. Hardware was found to closely match the patterns and size of the pieces reclaimed. Where use and code requirements mandated, hardware was provided in the gallery spaces that were sensitive to the period of the Depot’s construction. Within the Depot, a combination of preservation, renovation, and reconstruction methods were employed to maintain the historic appropriateness of the interior space. The two primary public areas, the gallery and adjacent boardroom, were selected for the greater investment in historic reconstruction. Where possible, historic ceiling, wall, and floor finishes were retained. The new interior partitions were built to replicate the demolished tile wall locations, then finished with troweled plaster texture to match the initial construction.

Wood paneling salvaged from walls and ceilings were in various states of deterioration that did not allow for reconstruction and reuse. Wood panel wainscot was removed, measured and recreated from carefully selected white oak materials. The paneled ceilings were in far worse condition than the wainscots, but enough remained to save the historic beams and faithfully recreate the paneled infill. Birch and maple flooring were reclaimed, and an adequate amount was available to be reinstalled in the south portion of the Depot. The gallery and boardroom received new birch hardwood to match the dimensions of the original floors. This transformed the rooms, once used for passengers, to a gallery for artifacts that observe the historic production of limestone in Lawrence County.

Originally, the Milwaukee Depot had no provisions for mechanical spaces. To preserve the maximum amount of space for programs, a partial basement and crawl space was provided. This allowed zoned HVAC units and ductwork to be routed unseen below. Electrical services had been introduced in only a few areas of the Depot. With the required wall reconstruction, modern electrical and life safety systems could be routed within wall cavities to minimize their impact on the interior design. Wireless controls bring maximum multi-scene functionality to the LED lighting used throughout. Track lighting was chosen for the gallery to coordinate with the Limestone Museum’s displays. Other spaces have pendant fixtures appropriate to historical precedence.

Interior and exterior color selections were based on research conducted on the original materials as well as paint recovered from the original plaster. The exterior trim color, and interior paint schemes reflect the colors believed to be used in the original design. Tile floor patterns and colors are based upon the remnants of the Depot’s original bathrooms.


The Milwaukee Depot preservation, restoration, and relocation was the culmination of a 20-year effort to save an important part of Bedford and the limestone industry’s history. The heritage and story of this architectural gem reinforces the historic significance of the City of Bedford, strengthening the community’s sense of place.

The Depot’s site now serves as a trail head for the Limestone Trail, which is a City of Bedford urban trail connecting to the new Milwaukee Road Rail Trail.


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