Holly Union Depot, Holly, MI

Exterior of a one-story red brick railroad depot

Photo by Andrew Jameson, 2011. CC BY SA 3.0

Quick Facts

Holly’s Union Depot was built in 1885-86 to replace an earlier wood depot built in 1865 which burned on August 10, 1884. Built by the Detroit, Grand Haven & Milwaukee Railroad to serve as a union depot for that line and the Flint & Pere Marquette, which intersected it there, the depot served as Holly's railroad passenger station for eighty years. The depot is a well preserved example of a small town local passenger depot of Late Victorian style.

White settlement of Oakland County began in earnest after the opening of the Erie Canal, and Holly Township's first white settler arrived in 1831. The township was incorporated in 1838. A small village grew up about the site of saw and grist mills established in 1843 and 1844, respectively, and a post office was established in 1846. The village was first called Algerville and then Holly Mills in 1851. The real growth of the village of Holly began with the completion of the Detroit & Milwaukee Railway (later the Detroit, Grand Haven & Milwaukee) as far northwest as Holly from Detroit in 1854 or 1855. The village of Holly was incorporated in 1865.

The British-owned Great Western Railway, whose line ran from Niagara Falls to Windsor, Ontario, assumed virtual control of the D. & M. in 1857 and completed it to Grand Haven on Lake Michigan in 1858. The Great Western amalgamated with the Grand Trunk system in 1882. A second railroad line running north from Holly to Flint, the Flint & Holly Railway, was completed in 1864. The Flint & Pere Marquette took over this line in 1868 and extended it southward to Monroe through Milford by 1870. These routes connected the dense old growth forests of Michigan to the industries in the Midwest and the Northeast.

After the first wooden depot burned, the railroads fitted up freight sheds for waiting rooms while they worked out the plans for a new union depot. They contracted with H. Heitsch & Son of Pontiac to build a new depot and separate baggage room for $6500, and work began a few days later. The new brick depot opened on or just before February 13, 1886.

The interior of the new depot was paneled with Norway pine. Each of the railroads had their own ticket booth, and the depot had two waiting rooms: one for women only, and the other with a lunch counter. The lunch counter was an unusual feature for a small-town train depot -- most small towns did not have enough train traffic to support one. It may have succeeded in Holly because the station served two lines with transferring passengers. At the height of the railroad era, it was common for over 100 trains per day to pass through Holly Junction. The walnut-trimmed lunch counter was initially run by W. H. Kirkland, "an experienced caterer who will set out a clean palatable lunch, not an average railway 'liverpad' that is often worked off on the unsuspecting public," according to the local paper.

From this depot, women distributed meals to soldiers. It was also the location where families sent men off to war, and where they were welcomed home. In 1908, prohibitionist Carry Nation arrived here via train on her crusade against “demon rum.”

How long the depot served the Flint & Pere Marquette and its Pere Marquette successors is not clear, but the depot continued to serve rail passenger traffic on the Grand Trunk Western until about 1964.

The Holly Union Depot was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 21, 2000. You can read the full nomination via the National Archives.

Christensen, Robert O. National Register of Historic Places Nomination: Holly Union Depot.

Michigan Historical Markers. Holly's Railroads / Holly Union Depot, Registered Site L2220.

Michigan Railroads. Station: Holly, MI

National Geographic. Vote Your Main Street: Union Depot

Last updated: October 2, 2019