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Knife River looks to restore depot

The Knife River Recreation Council will hold a meeting Tuesday to gauge public interest in restoring the Knife River Depot to create a heritage and cultural center in the community. (News-Chronicle photo by Jamey Malcomb)

By the Knife River Campground along the railroad tracks passing through the sleepy community of the same name stands two buildings that appear to be abandoned.

The building is the old Knife River Depot, where trains traveling to and from Duluth would stop in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The structures were built in the 1890s and used in the Lakeside neighborhood of Duluth, but were brought to Knife River around 1900.

As trains became a less common mode of passenger and freight transportation, the buildings fell into disrepair. Today, the siding of one building is nearly gone and there is a large hole in the roof near the chimney. The structures look like they could collapse at any time.

Now, however, a group of individuals in Knife River are looking into the possibility of restoring the two buildings and rechristening the train depot the "Knife River Heritage and Cultural Center."

The Knife River Recreation Council is hosting a meeting Tuesday, Jan. 30, at 7 p.m. at the Knife River Recreation Center to gauge public interest of creating a heritage and cultural center.

Paul von Goertz, a spokesman for a steering committee created to investigate the project, said the idea for turning the site into a center celebrating the history and culture of Knife River began in late 2016, when the fishing boat Crusader II became available from the Lake County Historical Society.

The boat was built in Larsmont in the 1930s and made its home in Knife River for many years. After spending nearly a quarter-century outside near the Two Harbors Lighthouse, the ship needs a bit of work, but von Goertz and other residents are working to bring it back to its original condition.

Von Goertz said he hopes the depot can be a destination for visitors arriving in Knife River on the North Shore Scenic Railroad to explore the history of the community and its relationship to locomotives and the commercial fishing industry.

A restored depot could one day host a restored Crusader II, which would be the centerpiece of the complex. The building could be an open-air structure, so there would be no need to heat or enclose it, but it is in need of significant repairs.

The foundation of the building needs to be stabilized, the windows need to be replaced and the roof will require significant work for the structures to be safe for public use. The steering committee hopes if the community gets behind the idea and there are significant in-kind donations, the cost can be kept to around $20,000.

According to von Goertz, Randy Ellestad, who owns the Knife River Campground and the buildings, and the St. Louis and Lake County Rail Authority, which owns the land on which the buildings sit, have expressed support for the idea and both want to work with the community to restore the buildings.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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