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Time running out to save 1929 Kansas train depot

MARYSVILLE, Kan. (AP) -- Barring a last-minute influx of cash, a historic northeast Kansas train depot could soon be reduced to rubble by a railroad company that has contributed mightily to its community's prosperity.

Union Pacific Railroad is preparing to demolish its 83-year-old depot in Marysville after local preservationists could come up with less than half of the $132,000 needed to purchase 2 acres of land adjacent to the structure.

The railroad abandoned the depot in 2009. Since then, it has been vandalized and damaged by weather, the tracks have been ripped up, and weeds are growing through the crumbling sidewalk, The Kansas City Star reported ( ).

Linda Swim, president of Landmark Enterprises, a group trying to save the depot, said there might even be a dead animal inside the building. Still, the group said an architectural firm from Omaha, Neb., has inspected the building and found it to be structurally sound.

Union Pacific offered to give the depot and the land on which it sits to the city, but Landmark's plan includes a community theater on the adjoining land owned by the railroad. The city said it would give the depot to the group if it came up with enough money to buy the additional land, but community contributions fell well short of the amount needed for the purchase.

The deadline to come up with the money passed in November, and the railroad is ready to bulldoze the place.

"We are securing paperwork for demolition," railroad spokesman Mark Davis said. "That was the agreement and they didn't come up with the money.

"We're historic-minded, too. But at some point, it becomes a safety issue and an eyesore."

Marysville, which is known as "Black Squirrel City" because of its many black squirrels whose ancestors escaped from a travelling circus, was once a stop on the Pony Express. Locals say that a building south of the depot that's been turned into a museum is the sole surviving Pony Express station between St. Joseph, Mo., and Sacramento, Calif.

The depot, built in 1929, was designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood, who designed Yosemite National Park's Ahwahnee Hotel around the same time.

Those trying to save the station say the community owes much of its prosperity to Union Pacific, which was a major employer there for nearly a century.

Retired Union Pacific employees Gilbert Schmitz and Ron Grauer hope the building can be saved.

"They covered up a lot of the woodwork with paneling and lowered the ceiling, but it's all still in there," Grauer said.

Joyce Zaitlin, who wrote a biography of Underwood in the 1980s, said small-town train stations reflect a specific time in American history, and she thinks Marysville should do everything it can to save its depot.

"Marysville is indeed lucky to have such an example still standing, and it is hoped that the town recognizes its importance," she said.