SPARTA, NJ – A large crowd gathered, despite the cool drizzle on Saturday for the dedication of the Sparta Train Station.
Nearly 300 people came together in the PAL building adjacent to the station to hear the opening remarks given by William Dermody III and his son William Dermody IV, known as Bill III and Bill IV. Katelyn Leondi, spokesperson for the newly created Train Creative, acted as mistress of ceremony for the event. Sussex County Historian Wayne McCabe and Nathan Fenno, President New York Susquehanna and Western Railroad shared a brief history of the station and railroad in the region.
The station had been rebuilt since the 2012 Labor Day fire, “like a phoenix, literally rising from the ashes” McCabe said in his remarks.
The Dermody family initially purchased the property in 2008, according to Bill IV. “No one knew what we were doing at the time, not even us. It was a real mess,” referring to the land that now incorporates the station, Sparta PAL buildings and parking lot. “You were more likely to need a tetanus shot than get artistic inspiration.”
Bill IV described the initial site as having “box and rail cars here we didn’t know about,” because it was so overgrown. He thanked Jack of JC Excavation and the Techflex team for helping to clear the debris.
McCabe spoke about the impact the Sparta Train Station had on the development of the town and the county since 1854. Most trains traveled through the region to get the coal from Pennsylvania to the big cities to the east such as Paterson and New York according to McCabe. “With all of the deep water lakes near to the railroad lines” an ice industry also developed.
Later passengers began to come. “The station at Sparta was important to local development. In the 1900s more than a dozen guest houses and hotels could be found in the town,” McCabe said. “The station became the economic generator bringing in tourists, money and development of Sparta.”
In closing his remarks McCabe said, “This is not just a dedication to Bill Dermody Jr. to honor his commitment to Sparta but to the whole family.”
“I’ve been invited to many meetings,” Fenno began. “This is one of the few for a pleasant reason. I am in awe of the Dermody family and the project they pulled off.”
Fenno also spoke about the history of the NYS and W in the region dating back 1866. With the decline in use of coal and increased use of the automobile the railroad’s influence declined steadily, Fenno explained, running through a timeline of the railroad. After tough times in the early 1950s and 1970s the line was rehabilitated in 1985 bringing it to where it is now; 400 miles of track from Syracuse to Jersey City carrying 26,000 carloads in 2015.
The Sparta Train Station is one of three that remain from the railroad’s heyday. The other two can be found in Maywood and Hawthorne.
“I applaud the tenacity and vision of the Dermody family to restore and rebuild after the fire,” Fenno said in closing his remarks.
Bill III began his remarks thanking Chief Ernie Reigstad for the use of the PAL.
Speaking about the Train Creative initiative, Bill III said they are hoping the station will become “an inspiring backdrop for creative expression.” Further the expectation is that “local artists can become instructors” using the train station as a studio.
The station was rebuilt and refurbished inside and out and the Train Creative website has been launched. This was all done with the intention of having the station be a facility that not only “houses railroad artifacts but provides creative backdrop to create community learning experiences,” said Leondi.
The Lockwood family donated large model trains to be on display in the station. “[The father] Horace would take the kids for a ride” on the train over tracks that covered his property explained Bill III.
After the speakers concluded their remarks everyone joined the Dermody family at the front of the station to unveil the plaque dedicating the facility to Bill Jr.
Reverend David McDonnell of Our Lady of the Lake Parish led a blessing of the Sparta Train Station and the shroud was removed from the plaque. Everyone assembled was invited to visit the station and have lunch. Lunch was prepared by food truck caterers Oink and Moo BBQ from Florham Park and Girardi’s Kabobs from Old Bridge. Upstream Grill added to the lunch offerings as well. Delicious Ice Cream from Gladstone Peapack, in an old fashioned Good Humor truck provided dessert.
Music was by Al Louis Entertainment and Redshaw’s Flower Shop created unique fall themed table decorations.
Leondi said artists wishing to teach at the station can register on the Train Creative web page. “After a background check, they can offer classes.” Students can then register for the classes on the same site.
They are hoping to have a wide variety of art forms taught inside the station. “I’m hoping they can teach a class in using the iPhone,” Bill III said.
Train Creative already has a Harry Potter day and drawing and clay classes scheduled, according to Leondi.
“We hope the train station will bring more joy to people here. It is for the youth,” Bill III said. “We hope it will give them good things to do.”