In 2011, Blue Springs couple Kay Burrus and Riley Burrus Sr. began searching for an activity or cause to occupy their time after retirement. After getting involved in the Blue Springs Historical Society, a new purpose seemed to naturally find them: saving and refurbishing the city’s historic Chicago & Alton Depot, set to host its grand opening Saturday.
In fact, the depot frames some of the pair’s earliest memories. They can still recall walking to the library from their elementary school and seeing a man dressed in military uniform push a mail cart toward the post office. The depot acted as a backdrop to this daily routine.
“It was always something that sat on the side of the tracks,” Kay said of the depot. “You knew it was there. When you saw it, you knew you were in Blue Springs.”
But a planned demolition of the depot changed this casual attitude and awakened the couple’s investment in their community. After the Blue Springs Historical Society purchased the depot – which dates back to 1926 – from the Kansas City Southern Railway in 2011, following a community rally and fundraiser, the Burruses stepped up to play a key role in its restoration.
Of course, this included extensive painting and landscaping. What Riley remembers most, though, is plunging into city history. He estimates that he spent more than 40 hours tracking down just one newspaper article about the original depot, which burned down in the 1920s. The article now hangs in the remodeled building as part of Riley’s goal to share the depot’s origins with others.
“They need to know where we come from and how this town got its start,” Riley stated. “If we don’t preserve this history, it’s just going to be lost and forgotten.”
Riley’s personal connection to the depot amplifies his belief in this message. When his parents built his childhood home, they used a kit shipped by rail. Later in his childhood, Riley found out that his father had made it back safely from war and would be returning home through a telegram sent to the depot’s office. That telegram still hangs in the Burrus home.
If the research proved to be one of the seven-year project’s most challenging aspects, Riley identified finding and buying artifacts as the most exciting. He scoured eBay in a race against other train enthusiasts and collectors, resulting in a depot filled with treasures for visitors to observe.
There are numbered baggage tags from past train rides, an old-fashioned ticket punch and playing cards – a testament to train passengers’ and railroad employees’ daily lives. An 18th century coal iron stove also commands attention. And if depot guests get tired, they can take a seat on a bench from the train station itself.
The depot’s new look represents a startling transformation from the empty rooms that the Burruses and other volunteers first worked in.
“We wanted it to be a showcase,” said Kay. “This is what started Blue Springs as we know it today. I think the community wanted to see it saved.”