THE LITTLE RIVER RAILROAD
By: Dave McDonald, BCHS – President
Early villages such as Coldwater and Quincy were established along an old Indian passageway referred to as the Sauk Trail, and later by settlers as the Chicago Road. Transportation in early Branch County came in the form of stage coaches. In 1837 the new state of Michigan launched improvement programs that included the building of railroads. By 1843 the Michigan Southern Railroad had advanced only from Monroe to Hillsdale. Branch residents still had to take a coach to Hillsdale in order to reach the swift (30 miles per hour) new transit system.
In March, 1850 Coldwater residents were aggressively demanding the presence of a rail system into the village. With additional supportive legislation by the state, the rail was laid into Jonesville by October of that year and on December 10, 1850 the first freight train pulled into the village of Coldwater at noon. Following four hours later at 4:15 PM was the first passenger train. That was followed by several local parties to celebrate the long awaited arrival of the steam engine and a new era of transportation.
The first wood frame station built in Coldwater served the town from 1850 until 1883 when it was moved to Batavia to make room for a new brick structure done in an Italianate design. It was completed on Dec. 20, 1883 by the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad. The new station building became a favored gathering place for city residents for many years.
Branch County now has a rare treat with the presence of the Little River Railroad. The brick building still has the original doors, ticket windows, slate roof and enameled wainscoting. Today you can be treated to a small train museum and a gift shop run by the owners, Terry and Geri Bloom. The platform area is still paved in the original Canton Paver bricks. Restoration actually began on the building in 1973 when former owners purchased the building from Penn Central. During the week of Sept. 29 the Blooms completed purchased of the 1883 building and celebrated with a Grand Opening. As for the classy 110 Steam Engine. Well, it’s just a southern belle with a brass bell from Tennessee. It was owned by an enterprise that logged in the Smokey Mountains.
In December, the Blooms have the train decorated early for Christmas and offer a round trip ride between Coldwater and Quincy. Further inquiries on times and prices, plus required pre-trip registration for the ride should be handled directly with the Little River Railroad at 517-279-7687 or 574-215-0751, or, by visiting them at 29 West Park Avenue during their posted normal operating hours.