WINDHAM — The historic railroad depot is taking on the look of its former splendor.
Construction began on the first phase of a major face lift March 15 - improvements funded largely by $174,000 in federal stimulus money.
By June 15, the improvements to the circa 1872 depot and freight building are scheduled for completion, including new roofs, clapboard repairs, painting and foundation work.
"It's a tremendous advance in terms of beautifying this area," Town Administrator Dave Sullivan said.
Workers have already stripped away a protective facade from the depot, revealing its signature train station look with clapboards, trim and braced overhangs.
The town Highway Department's trucks and equipment have been moved from the site, their former home.
Soon, the plows will follow, and a new parking lot is under construction.
Residents and town officials see the project as a major milestone in the continuing effort to beautify a once-thriving commercial part of town.
On Friday, five members of the Depot Advisory Committee toured the site at Frost and Depot roads.
Committee member John Mangan has a unique perspective on the project. He has lived across the street for 39 years in a home that includes what was the original 1849 railroad station.
He remembers trains passing through the depot. After they stopped running and the tracks were removed, the buildings fell into disrepair.
In the last few years, the location has bounced back with the opening of the rail trail and locating of a Boston & Main caboose across the street, he said.
"The caboose was like an appetizer," said Mark Samsel, a committee member.
Carol Pynn, another committee member, said she can visualize the old depot since the protective facade has been removed.
"You can just picture the people here in their old-fashioned outfits waiting for the train," Pynn said.
Down the street, at the The Kitchen at Windham Junction, business owners Kay and John Normington have photographs and postcards of the old depot.
Kay Normington said customers are talking about the changes.
"There is a lot of excitement about the area being cleaned up and people learning about the historical value of the area.
The depot area was once home to the town post office, a mill and stores.
By June 15, the freshly painted buildings at the intersection of Frost and Depot roads will have stepped back in time.
"It'll be the way it was," said state Rep. Carolyn Webber, D-Windham, also a Depot Advisory Committee member.
Also, by June 15, the small uneven parking lot will be replaced by a new 32-space lot with painted lines and space for horse trailers, Sullivan said.
In April, 10 bright orange plows will be removed from the site. And in September, the great mounds of sand and salt will be moved, leaving the site more open and bringing the depot and freight building into prominence.
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