The Phoenix

Regional gem deserves accolade

- By Paul Muschick

The next time you buy postage stamps, you may see a building that looks rather familiar.

A regional landmark, the Tamaqua Railroad Station, will be featured in a new series of stamps commemorat­ing the history and romance of train travel. That’s quite an honor.

Every town, big and small, used to have its own train station.

The station was the hub of its Schuylkill County community and its gateway to the rest of the world. That’s where mothers and fathers sent their sons off to war and where crowds flocked to see presidents on whistle stop tours.

Most of those iconic buildings are long gone. Stations were torn down or abandoned as train travel faded into folklore with the advent of highways and cars.

Some Tamaqua residents worked hard to keep their station from disappeari­ng. And now the station will be seen by people nationwide on stamps.

“For the Tamaqua station to be selected as one of five in the nation, it’s really amazing,” said Micah Gursky, director of Tamaqua Save Our Station, the nonprofit that saved the building from the wrecking ball.

The other stations that will be featured in the stamp series are Point of Rocks Station in Maryland; Main Street Station in Richmond, Va.; Santa Fe Station in San Bernardino, Calif.; and Union Terminal in Cincinnati.

All are on the National Register of Historic Places.

The revitaliza­tion of the Tamaqua station was a 30-year effort that beat the odds, Gursky told me.

The Victorian-style station at 18 N. Railroad St. will mark its 150th birthday next year.

The Tamaqua station was built in 1874 by the Philadelph­ia & Reading Railroad, which sought to expand its service into the anthracite coal region. Depot Square Park, with gardens and a fountain, later was built around it.

The station included a fullservic­e restaurant and was the meal stopping point for the trip between Philadelph­ia and Williamspo­rt. Not many rail stations in the region had restaurant­s at that time.

At its peak, Tamaqua’s station hosted more than 40 passenger trains a day.

The last train pulled out of the station in 1963, and the building was shuttered to the public. It was used as a dispatchin­g center by the railroad until 1980, when it was vacated.

Also in 1980, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The following year, a derelict tried to burn it down. The arsonist failed, though the fire caused heavy damage. Tamaqua Borough planned to knock it down, but the Tamaqua Historical Society stepped in to stabilize it and look for a way to preserve it.

The station passed through a series of developers until it was purchased in 1992 by Tamaqua Save Our Station.

I saw it for the first time the following year.

I was working for the Pottsville Republican, at the time. My beat was Tamaqua. I drove past the old station several times a week. It looked sad but promising. I hoped it would be saved.

Because of the diligence of volunteers, it was. Tamaqua Save Our Station raised $1.5 million to restore the gem. It reopened to the public in 2004.

I stopped by recently for the first time in about three decades. I had a great lunch at the Tamaqua Station Restaurant, owned by Melanie and John Ross. Their business occupies most of the building now. There is also a visitors center.

Melanie Ross offered me a tour that included the refurbishe­d ticket office that now is a gift shop. The office still has the labeled slots for tickets that were sold for travel to Philadelph­ia, New York, Atlantic City and other stops along the line.

For the U.S. Postal Service to honor the Tamaqua Railroad Station with a stamp is a great recognitio­n of not only the station’s history, but an accolade for those who saved it.

A celebratio­n is planned at the station from 6 to 9 p.m. on March 9, the day the railroad stamps are scheduled to be released.

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