Depot Museum a stop for travelers from around world

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Last year, from May 1 to Oct. 20, 3,257 people visited Marquette’s Depot Museum and Information Center. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

Even though it’s been years since it operated as a real railroad depot, the Depot Museum and Information Center in Marquette is still a hub of activity for visitors seeking travel information or wanting to check out the museum's extensive collection of railroad and Marquette historical and gift items. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Even though it’s been years since it operated as a real railroad depot, the Depot Museum and Information Center in Marquette is still a hub of activity for travelers.

Last year, from May 1 to Oct. 20, 3,257 people passed through its doors, looking for information or to check out the Depot’s extensive collection of railroad and Marquette historical items and gifts. Deidre Vick-Froehlich has manned the Depot for the past four years and enjoys keeping track of visitors’ origins. In 2014, she said 43 states were represented, up from the previous record of 42. People from 25 countries also stopped in, including some from every continent but Antarctica. Since the Depot opened in 2000, after being transported to Marquette from Blue River, Wis., no more than 21 countries had ever been represented.

Vick-Froehlich said she’s found those from Germany and other European countries to be some of the most interesting travelers.

“They get a month off from their jobs in the summer to sightsee,” she said. “Sometimes it’s their third or fourth visit to the U.S.”

Cross-country bikers are also unique, she added.

From her conversations with people, Vick-Froehlich estimated around half of the Depot’s visitors are returners to the area.

“Some had been to Marquette, but they hadn’t been here,” she said. “For some, it’s a specific point on their list. They come in and want to know all about Marquette.”

Vick-Froehlich said she has to “take a deep breath” when that request comes up. Depending on the person, explaining the community’s history could mean going back to Marquette and Joliet. For others, the growth of the railroad or information about Marquette when it was North McGregor is what they’re after.

Vick-Froehlich said she “works off people” to help them find other places they might be interested in seeing.

“Some people want directions to the winery, to antiques, Pikes Peak, Effigy Mounds or even fishing,” she said. “There’s a variety in here. No year is ever the same.”

She added the Depot works well with other businesses and attractions in the area. They send travelers her way and she sends other interested parties to them.

When people stop in to the Depot, Vick-Froehlich noted she’s not the only one who imparts information.

“People also educate me,” she said. For example, one traveler might suggest one route over another when someone is headed to Wisconsin Dells because there are more places to stop and sightsee. People also suggest other communities’ attractions, like the brewery museum in Potosi, Wis. Vick-Froehlich said, sometimes, she’s checked out these points of interest herself.

Within the last year, Vick-Froehlich has also found a new way to educate herself and others: Facebook. The Marquette Depot Museum and Information Center now has a page on the social network that Vick-Froehlich updates daily with historic photos, railroad history, tourism information and much more. As of Monday, the page had 430 likes. From May 4 to 10, posts reached nearly 9,000 people, with one post about two trains nearly running into each other in McGregor reaching over 4,500 people alone.

Vick-Froehlich said she values peoples’ comments on the posts, as it gives her more information or a different perspective on an event. One piece of history that’s been debated was the swinging bridge from The Bench to the rail yards.

“I’ve heard two different stories,” she recalled, “but that’s how you learn.”

She mentioned some other topics that have generated a lot of interest: White Springs Supper Club, the pontoon bridge, Marquette’s Burke Hotel and vintage postcards.

Vick-Froehlich said finding new information to share is fun. She had an especially good time over the winter, when she continued to update the page through the Depot’s offseason. Then, she made a habit of visiting the McGregor Public Library once each week to check out historical information and consult with library director Michelle Pettit. Other posts feature photos or stories from the Depot’s collection as well as from online sources.

“I get paid to have fun,” she said of her job, “but I’m just the one who puts the history out there. It’s all the people who donated and helped build things who made the museum a museum. It’s important to recognize them.”

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