MICHAEL JOHNSON/Livingston County News
The interior of the new “Gatherings at the Depot” coffee shop, owned by Vince and Joni Santucci.
Focus on Small Business
Leicester depot back in business
In 1915 the Delaware Lackawanna & Western Railroad tore down the converted house which had served as the make-shift Leicester railroad station since 1882. In place of the old building a handsome brick depot was built. It had stylish arched windows and a tile roof — appropriate to its prominent location at the southwest corner of the village square.
The new depot served as the departure and arrival point for passengers, freight and express parcel shipments into the early 1960s on a busy double track main line between Hoboken, NJ and Buffalo. The famous passenger express train, ‘The Phoebe Snow,’ passed through on a daily basis.
The Lackawanna merged with its one-time rival Erie Railroad in 1960, and in 1963 the track between Wayland and Groveland Station (visible as the cut on Dansville east hill) was removed. The line through Leicester was reduced to single track. Although freight service for the local feed mills persisted, there were no more through, main line trains and the depot in Leicester was closed.
In the ensuing decades, the old depot saw minimal use, briefly as an antique shop and then as a storage building, nevertheless retaining a distinguished appearance which marked it as a one-time place of importance.
Long time owner Felix Valentino made sure the building did not deteriorate. He kept the grounds neat and mowed. When the roof tiles and windows were damaged by vandals, he made repairs.
Envisioning a time when the building would reopen with a historic railroad theme, Valentino gathered a collection of old lanterns. When the interior contents of another old Lackawanna depot — this one in Cohocton — were auctioned, he purchased the passenger waiting room benches.
Beginning in 2000, the railroad itself got a little busier. Freight cars coming from and going to the new American Rock Salt Mine at Hampton Corners passed through Leicester.
Were he alive today, Felix would be delighted to see his railroad station has reopened after a loving interior restoration by his daughter and son-in-law, Joni and Vince Santucci. It is an artisan-oriented cafe, shop and gallery taking the name ‘Gatherings at the Depot.’
The agent’s area, occupying the central part of the depot, is now a full expresso bar serving specialty coffees, teas, smoothies and delicious pastries, all locally purchased.
The one-time passenger waiting room is an atmospheric cafe now occupied by tables. A radiant gas fireplace lends a warm and cozy feel, as do the original dark-stained oak walls. Restoration of the walls required merely a Murphy Soap washing and linseed oil rubdown.
There are plans to have table service outside in the summer. Summertime will also see a series of seven music concerts in the village square gazebo, Wednesday evenings 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.. The series begins June 13 with the York Jazz Band.
On the freight side of the depot, the original exterior brick is evident along much of the interior wall and appears as solid and clean as the day the depot was built.
The one-time freight room hosts a large cabinet of locally produced specialties: a full line of Once Again Nut Butter Products, Hill & Hollow blueberry items from Pavilion, Muddy Acres Honey from Cuylerville (produced by Joni’s beekeeping cousin Carmen Valentino), and Healthy Sisters mixes for soups and dips made and packaged under the auspices of the Rochester diocese Family Development Program.
There remains plenty of space on the freight side which the Santuccis hope to fill with more local products and crafters’ wares. Persons looking to market their jewelry, pottery, fabric, photography, paintings, leather, printmaking, wood, metal, glass, soap or sundry other items are invited to contact Vince and Joni at 319-8026.
In evidence as proper reminders of the building’s legacy are an array of historic railroad paraphernalia: Felix’s lantern collection and passenger benches; vintage Leicester railroad photographs gathered by historian Tom Roffe; old timetables; the station agent’s original bay window desk, safe and cash drawer — protected by a cage of expanded metal as well as expanded metal in the windows; levers for remote operation of track switches; and the still precisely accurate freight room scale.
The downstairs area is spacious and adequate for the cafe’s immediate needs, but a new staircase, whose appearance blends perfectly with its antique surroundings, leads to a loft over the agent’s and passenger rooms. This second floor has potential to accommodate more tables, an office or other expansion needs.
In 2008 the Leicester Railroad depot was named to the National Register of Historic Places.
‘Gatherings at the Depot,’ at 10 South Parkway in Leicester, is open for business 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
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