By Dan Hust
MOUNTAINDALE July 11, 2003 Its a resurrection of sorts, the return of something long gone from this county hamlet.
Indeed, thats exactly what Ken and Barb Schmitt are banking on.
But theyre not just hoping to bring back Mountaindales train station theyre hoping to bring back Mountaindales commerce and sense of community.
In a way, the plans for this all started back in January 1920, when the architects of the New York, Ontario and Western Railway (O&W) designed blueprints for a new 7,000-square-foot railroad station next to the tracks in Mountaindale.
The depot they envisioned complete with brick walls, a slate roof and hardwood floors was never built, and Mountaindales late 19th century structure served the hamlet until a fire in 1931. An abbreviated version of the station was built thereafter and remained until the railroads death in 1957.
Now, more than 80 years later, the Schmitts have resurrected the idea, adding their own twist: instead of passengers ready to board steam locomotives, they see businesses ready to serve customers.
The concept sprang from a county planning department desire to enhance the Rails-to-Trails section of the O&W between Mountaindale and Woodridge.
The Schmitts, who have been spearheading a revitalization of downtown Mountaindale for five years, wound up with enough money in grants and donations (more than $300,000) to go far beyond trail improvements.
Ken Schmitt, a member of the O&W Historical Society in Middletown and a childhood native of Mountaindale, wanted a business center to complement the rest of his hometown, which has a raft of 1930s and earlier commercial and apartment buildings that now look like new, thanks to his and Barbs efforts. (They actually own nearly 90 percent of the business district.)
Mountaindale was like a canvas, waiting for us to paint on it, said Barb, who owns and operates Diversified Corporate Services (a telecommunications company) with her husband. And were getting closer. This is a very exciting opportunity for us.
Were seeing things fall into place, added Ken, who thanked the Town of Fallsburg and the county for their help.
Ken, who remembers the abbreviated station, added, The ultimate would be to build the entire station as a virtual copy [of the proposed one of 1920].
That may or may not happen, but regardless, Ken estimates that the final cost will be around half a million dollars using blueprints supplied by fellow O&W enthusiast and society member Art Robb.
The results, Ken anticipates, will be just as large.
Within the building, it will be all high-tech, he said, referencing in particular the telecommunications cabling that has already made the hamlet one of the most technologically advanced towns in the county.
We dont do anything cheap, he added.
Maybe thats why people have signed on to this project, said Barb including the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development, which sent 75 of its members to the hamlet recently to view the plans.
We do get a lot of support. They see that when we build things, we dont cut corners, she explained. We meet or exceed codes.
When complete (and with all the paperwork, a timeline isnt set), the depot will feature retail and office space, a meeting room, restrooms and a visitors info section perhaps even a museum. Outside, therell be a picnic area and playground.
It all would fit in with the railroad theme in town. This year, the hamlets Sullivan Renaissance project includes a town bulletin board with a background picture of the old O&W steam locomotive #405, the Mountaineer (courtesy of O&W author Paul Lubliner).
Ken and Barb think of the station as being Mountaindales town square and plan on making it as people-friendly as the rest of the area.
Our own customers always feel they get more than they expected, said Ken. The real Golden Rule is to treat people as they want to be treated.
The Schmitts hope for a groundbreaking this fall at the site of the original station, with construction help supplied by BOCES students.
The building, located next to the basketball court off Post Hill Road a few steps from the downtown area, would then be hooked into Mountaindales water and sewer systems and opened sometime next year.