Detroit history: First train left Michigan Central Station 108 years ago after fire forced early opening

Framework of Michigan Central Station in 1913 (Photo: Detroit Historical Society/Ford)

This weekend marks the anniversary of the opening of Michigan Central Station.

The first train headed from Detroit toward Saginaw Bay on Dec. 26, 1913. The first arrival was from Chicago that night.

The concourse of Michigan Central Station in 1915. (Photo: Detroit Historical Society/Ford)

MCS wasn't supposed to open until the new year, but a fire at the old train depot at Third and Jefferson avenues led to an early opening.

PHOTOS: Crews find 1913 letter in Stroh's beer bottle during MCS restoration

Michigan Central became a bustling train station for years, and many people would pass through its grand lobby, including military members shipping off or getting home.

Michigan Central Station in 1955 (Photo: Detroit Historical Society/Ford)

However, a decline in train travel would spell the end for MCS.

The station's main waiting room closed in April 1967 but reopened after Amtrak took over the station and did more than $1 million in renovations. This included adding a bus terminal to the building.

Related: Crews find sub-basement that wasn't on original MCS plans

The renovations weren't enough to save Michigan Central. Amtrak left for a smaller building and sold the Corktown train station.

The last train rolled out of MCS to Chicago on Jan. 5, 1988.

From there, the one glorious and busy train station would fall into despair. Vandals gutted the building, smashed out windows, and covered the walls in graffiti, while the weather damaged the structure.

Michigan Central Station in 2013 (Amber Ainsworth)

While it was closed, numerous plans were proposed for the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Some dreamed of opening a casino in the building, while others considered moving the Detroit police headquarters there.

Manuel Moroun, whose company bought the station in 1996, did begin adding windows in 2015 and installed a new elevator.

(Photo: Amber Ainsworth)

Still, the building stood empty. 

Now, the historic train depot is on track to reopen with a new purpose – it will house Ford Motor Co.'s autonomous vehicle teams.

The automaker bought the train station in 2018 and got to work. Ford has said it plans to keep the main floor open so the public can visit the building.

The final phase of renovations is underway.

The first phase entailed winterizing the water-damaged building. It was also stabilized. During phase two, the mechanical and electrical systems were replaced, and exterior masonry was restored. 

Phase three, the final phase of the project, involves finishing and restoring the interior of Michigan Central.

Work being done inside Michigan Central Station on May 27, 2021. (Photo: Amber Ainsworth/FOX 2)

Work is expected to be finished in late 2022 or early 2023.

Ford said it wanted to maintain many of the historical aspects of the building.

Artifacts are helping workers do that, including artifacts that were returned by people who took them from the empty building. Crews have also found numerous artifacts inside the station.

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Artifacts found inside Michigan Central Station (Photo: Amber Ainsworth/FOX 2)

Michigan Central Station will be part of Ford's Corktown Campus, which includes a 30-acre walkable community surrounding the depot.

The community is asked to share what they would like to see around the train station. Share your ideas here.