St. Johns, Then and Now, contributed by the Michigan Association of RR Passengers
St. Johns, the Clinton County hub 18 miles north of Lansing, came close to bearing the name Sweglesville in honor of John Swegles, the Michigan auditor-general who bought, surveyed and cleared land for new settlements along the projected route of the Detroit and Milwaukee Railroad. Swegles (remember his first name was John) had greatly influenced the beginning of this new village in 1853 and his companions apparently believed it should bear his name. Either that or the reverend in the group had John the Apostle in mind. By summer of 1854, the young town had gained population, a hotel, a general store and Swegles's steam saw mill. St. Johns was transformed into an incorporated village in 1857 and leaped to city status in 1904.
St. Johns celebrates the area's heritage as a major agricultural mint producer with an annual Mint Festival every August. The Crosby Mint Farm is the oldest, continuous family-operated mint farm in the U.S. During the warmer months of the year, the Crosby clan sells their products at a retail shop on East Parks Road. Stoney Creek Essential Oils has the largest operation and sells mint oil to gum, toothpaste and other industries. Hanover's Michigan Mints in St. Johns uses locally grown mint in their chocolates sold in specialty shops around the state such as Dusty's Cellar in Lansing and, locally, inside the Clinton County Art Gallery and Gift Shop, 215 N. Clinton, next door to the Main Street Cafe where MARP will stop for lunch following the meeting at the historic Grand Trunk Depot on March 9.
The statuesque Clinton County Courthouse, located 3 blocks south of the Grand Trunk Depot, towers over a busy shopping district. At the intersection of Clinton and East Railroad streets is the Veterans Memorial honoring men and women of the county who serve in the Armed Forces, past and present, and those who gave their lives in battle, beginning with the Civil War.
The historic Grand Trunk Railroad Depot, located at 107 E Railroad St, is now home of the Clinton Northern Railway Museum. This building was built in 1920 in the identical style of the 1869 depot that a tornado had destroyed the same year. Fire destroyed the original wooden depot built in 1858.
Passenger train service ceased in 1964 and the last freight rumbled through in 1992. The City of St. Johns had the depot restored through a grant, and then let the Clinton County Arts Council rent it first for a gallery and later for a railroad museum.Available for viewing on the grounds are a 1903 Barney & Smith combination post office and baggage car and a 1926 maintenance away crew car, along with a 1927 caboose built in Port Huron. One day museum volunteers expect to have restored the 1902 Barney & Smith Sleeper Car, rescued from a side yard in Traverse City and brought to St. Johns in 2005.
This article was originally written by Rosemary Horvath and appeared in the March 2013 edition of the On-Track Online Newsletter