By: Bill O’Connell
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
It actually takes less than two minutes to walk from the parking lot of the Brailey Union Church to where the Brailey Train Depots sits, approximately fifty yards off County Road 3 just southwest of Swanton. But if you had taken that short 120 second stroll this past Saturday you would have traveled back almost 120 years to the days when most of the vehicles that got you around were fueled by hay and oats as you enjoyed the hospitality of Jim and Jean Wagoner and their Old Fashion Day celebration.
Built in 1903 by the Wabash Railroad, the Brailey Train Depot was in operation until 1930 when it was shuttered and sold to its long-time station manager Jim Cole. It remained in Mr. Cole’s family until the Wagoners purchased it in 2002 and began to renovate it. It took a lot of time, effort and money to restore the 100-year old structure but once it was done the Wagoners started hosting all types of social gatherings including Christmas parties, wedding receptions and now, the very popular Old Fashion Day.
It’s a day where everyone attending, especially the kids, were encouraged to dress in the styles of the late 1800s or early 1900s. They were able to make their own rag dolls, learn blacksmithing skills and make kettle corn in an actual kettle, all using tools with century old technology.
Mr. Wagoner actually started Old Fashion Day as a fund raiser for the Swanton Library. “It was Jim’s idea. He wanted to do a benefit for the library,” said Gail Phipps, a Swanton librarian who helps coordinate the effort from the Library’s side of things. “He’s been doing it for a number of years and he buys all the food as well.” There is no charge for the food but a jar is always set out for donations, all of which goes to the library. And somehow, according to Ms. Phipps, the jar “magically has a bigger amount” when Jim delivers it to the library a few days later.
At 82 years of age Jim still does a lot of the work to put these types of events on but he does get a lot of help from his daughter Joni Kelley and her husband Aaron. Joni and her family actually live in the old station master’s house so Jim’s help is never far away.
Jim and Jean want to see the Old Fashion Day continue and they would love to share the Brailey Train Depot with the public on a more regular basis. There has been a great deal of talk about bringing the Depot into the village and locating it just west of the library on the property between Chestnut Street and Zeiter Way, adjacent to the always busy train tracks.
“That would be wonderful,” responded Jim when asked about relocating his pride and joy into Swanton. “I’m not getting any younger,” he added.
Currently, there is a collaborated effort, still in its early stages, involving the Village of Swanton, the Swanton Library, the Swanton Chamber of Commerce and, of course, the Wagoner family, to make this happen. It would definitely go a long way to revitalizing Swanton’s “downtown” area and allow many more people to enjoy the efforts of Jim and his family for years to come.
Bill O’Connell may be reached at