Woman dedicates self to preserving old Union Station

By Judy Jenkins, Gleaner columnist

Netta MULLIN wasn't prepared for what happened to her the first time she entered Henderson's old Union Station.

“I still don't understand it,” says the petite woman with the brown eyes and brunette curls. “It's not like history had ever been a strong point for me, but when I walked into the depot, the building screamed out to me.”

What the 96-year-old structure no doubt yelled was “Help save me Netta!”

The former L&N station at the north end of Clark Street was a mere 87 years old on that day in 1988 when she first saw its picturesque cupola, arched doorways, mosaic floors and other remnants of long gone glory days. That is also had water stains, cracked plaster and similar signs of aging didn't deter the Indianapolis native who had been living in Henderson only six years.

Instead, they stiffened her resolve. She vowed, on the spot, to do whatever she could to preserve the station and its proud past. Even with its scores of problems and the fact that the sole daily tenants were cooing pigeons, she could see its beauty.

“I was in awe of the place and knew I wanted to be part of its restoration,” she says.

Netta is one of many dedicated Henderson County Historical and Genealogical Society members who have been involved in the effort to either bring the depot back to a semblance of its prime or turn it over to someone who can. But for her this has become more than an organizational mission.

It's a personal quest.

After her workday at Alpha Industrial Services, she voluntarily has put in countless hours at her home computer composing letters to state and federal officials and other sources to solicit aid for the station, which saw its last passenger train in 1971 and barely escaped the wrecker's ball in 1979. It was the historical society that rallied to save it, and the agency became the depot's owner shortly thereafter.

Since that time members have moved over the roof and throughout the seven large rooms and basement trying to repair the ravages of time and neglect. But the project has proven to be too big and the funds too small to reach their goal effectively. In fact, a local architect estimated it would take another $225,000 to do the job right.

Last month, Netta received a response from the governor's office, expressing interest in the project and asking for more historical data on the station. That request coincides with an effort she's undertaken on her own – collecting as much written and pictorial memorabilia as possible on the depot and its predecessors.

Yep, says Netta, there were several earlier depots in this community that's had rail service for more than 125 years.

It's possible that material could be used in an expanded county history that the historical society has considered as a fund-raising endeavor. Or, if nothing else, the information would be valuable to a potential purchaser of the depot.

A few months ago historical society members voted to try to find a buyer for the Union Station – but thus far there have been no nibbles.

Netta is so attached to the historic brick structure that she refers to it as “she.” When, for instance, Netta talks about a proposal that the station be moved to the riverfront, she says, “I don't know if she'd survive a move. This is where she belongs.”

Not long ago, two sisters came to the depot and steeped into the tall room where the historical society has its office. They noted that space with the multi-colored floor and long windows once had been the women's waiting room and had contained two large wicker rockers used by mothers who were feeding their babies.

There must be numerous photographs and yellowed newspaper articles about the depot in local family archives, and Netta would be thrilled to borrow them. She asks that anyone with those treasures contact her at (270) 830-7514.

Though she gets discouraged at times, Netta says she and her historical society comrades will hang in there until the depot's future is settled.

It's work, she says, but it's also a labor of love.

Reprinted with permission.
The Gleaner, Henderson, Kentucky, June 11, 1997


Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2005 HCH&GS