The museum’s depot was originally built by the Chicago & North Western Railway in 1894 at Ablemans, Wisconsin, three miles west of North Freedom. The rail line through Ablemans was built in 1873 by the C&NW. The name of the village was changed from Ablemans to Rock Springs in 1947.
There were many similar depots located throughout the North Western’s system. The depots at Waunakee and Wonewoc, Wisconsin, for example, were identical to Ablemans.
Railroad business increased at Ablemans and the depot was enlarged in 1916 to a length of 83 feet. The interior was remodeled to include a larger office of 12 x 14 feet with a 5 foot passage and ticket window at the rear of the office. A 15 x 17 foot men’s waiting room was constructed to the south of the office, as well as an 8 by 17 foot warm room and a 17 by 30 foot freight room. The work was done by the Bridge and Building crew working out of the Division Office in Madison.
A 1930 Station List shows Ablemans as Station X926 with telegraph call “AM.” A 1935 timetable lists eastbound train #510 at 6:10am, motor #518 at 3:01pm, and westbound train #507 at 8:47am and #519 at 7:29pm. A 1951 timetable shows one westbound and two eastbound trains stopping. In 1956 the second main track and the shelter shed on the east side of the tracks were removed and in 1961 the station was closed with all work from Ablemans (Rock Springs) handled out of Baraboo.
In 1965 the Chicago & North Western donated the depot to the museum. A contractor prepared a concrete foundation and basement at North Freedom and in fall of 1965 members removed the roofing, roof boards and cut the rafters. The depot was cut into two pieces and moved back roads to the new foundation. Members worked feverishly to re-install the rafters and apply plywood roof boards and temporary roofing felt and, as the weather was favorable, most of the work was completed before the winter snows.
Many hours were spent by M-C members burning and scraping paint both inside and outside before the depot could be painted and opened to the public. In 1967 the warm room was removed to enlarge the waiting room and stairways were installed to basement and to an attic storage room constructed over the former freight room. Two chimneys were constructed to serve the coal stove in the south waiting room and the oil-burning furnace in the basement. Today, the depot houses the ticket office and gift shop for the museum. Its paint scheme is as it appeared in 1894.
The museum’s depot actually serves its intended purpose. Each day during the summer, patrons purchase tickets for transportation, train crews check their bulletin board, passengers mill about on the platform waiting for boarding, and an occasional parcel of freight might be loaded for delivery to LaRue (well not too often). The train order board, which signaled passing trains in the days before two-way radio communication, is fully functional (its control handles can be seen between the two windows in the photo at left). And one might hear a telegraph message sent out to another C&NW station down the line.