South Lyon – A Railroad Town

Original Depot

Originally published on http://www.michiganfitness.org/trail-towns-tour%E2%80%94-easy-ride-history. This is the original depot built in 1871.

The middle 1800’s saw a boom in interest toward the railroad industry. Railroads were being built on a massive scale and many different railroad companies started during this time. There was a chaotic buying spree of land throughout lower Michigan as these new railroad companies edged to be the first and best. South Lyon just happened to be in the middle of a route from Detroit towards Lansing along with Pontiac, Jackson, and Ann Arbor. This brought many railroads into town, and therefore, travelers. 1

South Lyon was a busy railroad town in the late 1800’s. In 1871, the first railroad line to enter into the settlement of Thompson’s Corner was the Detroit, Lansing, and Northern. This railroad was later renamed to the Pere Marquette, followed by Chesapeake and Ohio, and finally the CSX. After the settlement was incorporated into a town in 1873, two more railroads came into the now South Lyon. In 1881, the Toledo and Ann Arbor built a spur into town that was supposed to continue on to Pontiac, but wouldn’t until the rail road changed names later on. The final railroad that had a line through South Lyon entered in 1883 and was the Grand Trunk. This railroad went from Pontiac to Jackson and finally up to Battle Creek. The first depot was built in 1871 with the Detroit, Lansing, and Northern coming to town. The depot served the city as a focal point for the town up until June 28, 1908 when it burned down. A spark from a passing excursion train started the fire. As it was a Sunday, most of the volunteer fire fighters were in church and slow to react to the fire. The new Witch’s Hat Depot was built in 1909 and was moved to it’s current location in the historic park in McHattie Park in 1976. 2

These railroads provided goods and people to the area of South Lyon and positively contributed to the boom in the railroad industry in the small town. The spur from Toledo and Ann Arbor rail road that was built in 1881 was built to connect Ann Arbor, through Emery and crossed Pontiac Trail and ended just west of the cemetery in town. The rail line was later torn up in 1891 due to many factors including the great fire in the thumb of Michigan which caused a lack of interest in that area and the increased interest in the Northwestern portion of the state. The Grand Trunk rail road was originally not supposed to come to South Lyon. It’s original destination was to go from Pontiac through Wixom and to go along the Huron River. The route was later changed to connect with the Ann Arbor railroad in South Lyon and then head west through Rushton, toward Jackson. This railway served the city of South Lyon up until the early 1980’s. 3

One of South Lyon’s most iconic buildings today, The South Lyon Hotel (which is actually a restaurant) was built originally in 1867. It was originally known as the Whipple House Hotel. The land that the hotel was built on was the cemetery of the town and the body parts were moved at a rate of $2.50 per body. There were two other hotels in the area at the time, the New Hudson Hotel and the Botsford Inn. There were approximately 668 people in the town at the time of the Hotel’s building.4 The hotels of the town would rush to the depot early in the morning with stage coaches to try to get the passengers of the trails to stay in their respective hotels.5

1. South Lyon Area Railroads Brochure, printed by South Lyon Area Historical Society.
2. Don/Gary Production. “As Time Goes On” South Lyon Area Historical Society.
3. South Lyon Area Railroads Brochure, printed by South Lyon Area Historical Society.
4. South Lyon Hotel About Page (http://www.southlyonhotel.com/1/251/about_us.asp)
5. Don/Gary Production. “As Time Goes On” South Lyon Area Historical Society.