Old Hinsdale Train Depot Still Standing...But Not For Long
The paint is nearly gone, the wood is rotting and the structure still stands, unable to tell the story behind it. The narrow and long building has served as storage over the past several decades. It was moved around 50 miles about 50 years ago and found it's last destination. The building is now ready to be demolished, as it no longer serves a purpose.
The Stonebergs live out on a ranch off the Anderson Trail, along Larb Creek. While Rose Stoneberg couldn't quite place when the building was moved to the ranch, she remembers her father, Bill Anderson, bought the old Hinsdale train depot with hopes to make a bunk house.
After extensive research on the building, it was discovered that the building was not actually original to Hinsdale. It served as a temporary depot after a robbery and arson took the small town by surprise.
When the railroad moved through the Hi-Line of Eastern Montana, several towns were created along the line. The Great Northern placed a car body in the town of Hinsdale in 1888. It served as a facilities station, and eventually another handcar was added to help hold a telegrapher and supplies. It was around 1914 when the new depot first stood. It was able to house a few employees, a telegrapher, mail, passengers, and other supplies that arrived. It was the same year that Hinsdale had its first electric light plant built.
When homesteaders flooded the area between 1912 and 1917, many of them came by train to claim their land. Many of them left by train when their homestead failed to produce crops because of the harsh conditions and lack of water.
The depot sat and watched people come and go for nearly 50 years. That piece of history was rapidly lost on Feb. 11, 1960, when the depot burned to the ground. A train carrying the mail arrived to the depot around 5 a.m. that fateful day. Soon after that, the local fire department responded to the scene in its week-old fire truck at 5:45 a.m. with flames already appearing out of thee roof.
The estimated damages were $50,000. Great Northern lost new traffic control equipment and radio telephone equipment. Also lost was $17,000 shipped in the mail that was to go to the First National Bank. About $1,000 in silver was found melted in the ashes. Another $16,000 in cash was not found, which investigators found to be suspicious. Arson was suspected in the fire, to cover up a robbery.
Within a few weeks a rail car, similar to the one placed in the beginning, was placed for a makeshift depot. A photo from the March 24, 1960 shows a photo the temporary depot that was moved from Fresno, a small town in the Havre area. The depot was used until a new steel structure could be built for the Hinsdale depot. This building is the one that now sits on the Stoneberg ranch in Southern Valley County.
Judy Hillman Allison explained what happened to the arsonist involved. Her father, Ron E. Hillman Jr., and her grandfather, Ron E. Hillman Sr., worked for the First National Bank when the depot burned down. Hillman Jr, a cashier at the time, left behind a letter with information on the investigation. While he passed on, his story has remained and lived through his children. Hillman Sr. was the president of the bank.
After the arson, employees at the bank were closely looked at as possible suspects. Allison said she heard her father talk of taking lie detector tests and he suspected the phones were tapped at the bank. Hillman Jr. told the post office inspectors that he had some questionable deposits from a telegrapher who worked for the train depot. A James Eddy had been stationed in Hinsdale and his regular paychecks were deposited. He also owed money on loans. Not long after the fire his loans were paid, leaving the Hillmans to wonder where the money came from. For three years the inspectors were told to look at Eddy, who had moved onto another state.
Hillman Jr. said three years after the arson a new post office inspector came to town on a different matter. He told the inspector of the suspect, Eddy. It was only a few weeks later that Eddy was found.
In the Jan. 17, 1963 paper, the arson made the front page news again in the old Hinsdale Tribune. Eddy had tried to commit suicide and had written a full confession of stealing the $16,000. His suicide attempt failed and he was taken into custody. He faced federal charges of mail robbery and arson. He went to court in Billings and was convicted of his crimes.
It was around this time that the temporary depot was moved out to the Anderson ranch. The new steel depot remained in use for a short amount of time before several small depots around the state disappeared. Changes in freight rates, post office deliveries and passenger train routes all contributing to the loss of several small depots. Burlington Northern bought out Great Northern and several other train companies along the line.
Some information for this article came from the Hillman family and the Hinsdale Tribune.