Michigan Central history: A timeline of historic train depot's fall to decay, revival

Michigan Central spent 30 years empty, becoming a symbol of Detroit's decay, but before that it was a bustling hub for train travel in and out of the city.

Here's a look back at key moments in the depot's history as the grand reopening nears:

1912 – Construction begins

When construction began on Michigan Central Station, trains were going out of a downtown depot.

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

December 1913 – Michigan Central opens

Michigan Central Station was set to open in 1914, but a fire at the existing train station forced an early opening. The first train headed from Detroit toward Saginaw Bay on Dec. 26, 1913. Later that night, a train from Chicago arrived. 

January 1914 – Formally dedicated

The train station was formally dedicated in early 1914, though it was already operating at that point.

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

April 1967 – Main waiting room closes

Peak train travel brought thousands of people through Michigan Central's doors daily. However, a decline in train travel led to the main waiting room being closed. 

1971 – Amtrak takes over MCS

Amtrak took over Michigan Central and began renovating the building.

April 1975 – Added to the National Register of Historic Places

Michigan Central was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. This designation saved the train depot from demolition when it was empty.

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

June 1975 – Main waiting room reopens

The main waiting room reopened with a ceremony several years after Amtrak took over the station.

January 1988 – Michigan Central closes

Despite Amtrak's renovations and the reopening of the waiting area, the last train left on Jan. 5, 1988. That train was headed to Chicago.

December 1989 - Real estate developer Mark Longton Jr. buys Michigan Central

Real estate developer Mark Longton Jr. envisioned a casino in the former train depot. 

1996 - Manuel Moroun's Controlled Terminals Inc. buys Michigan Central

When the building was empty, numerous plans were proposed for the space. One idea was to move the Detroit Police Department's headquarters to the building, while others wanted to tear it down. As noted previously, Michigan Central is a historic place, so it couldn't be torn down.

Manuel Moroun's company threw around renovation plans, but none came to fruition. This happened as the city was pushing to demolish the building.

Michigan Central Station in 2013 (Amber Ainsworth)

2015 - Windows and freight elevator added

While abandoned, its windows were broken out. In 2015, the outside of Michigan Central got a facelift when windows were added.

A freight elevator was also added inside.

June 2018 - Ford purchases Michigan Central

Despite the upgrades, Michigan Central remained empty with an uncertain future. That all changed in June 2018 when Ford announced that it had purchased the former train depot.

It celebrated the announcement with a party featuring Detroit rapper Big Sean and tours of the long-vacant building. Then, crews got to work.

Michigan Central Station in May 2021 (Photo: Amber Ainsworth/FOX 2)

June 6, 2024 - Ford holding grand opening

The project was supposed to be completed in late 2022 or early 2023, but was delayed. In February 2024, a message - 06.06.24 - was illuminated on Michigan Central ahead of the announcement that the time had finally come.

The interior of Michigan Central looking from the back toward the front (Amber Ainsworth/FOX 2)

On June 6, 2024, a grand opening concert is being held featuring iconic Detroit artists, including Diana Ross and Jack White. That opening celebration kicks off 10 days of tours where the public will get to step inside for the first time since 2018 and see the amazing transformation.

Read more about the renovations completed here.


Inside Michigan Central: Take a photo and video tour ahead of this week's grand opening

Michigan Central in Detroit is reopening after decades of being abandoned and years of renovations by Ford. Take a look inside at the work done to the historic train depot that once saw upwards of 4,000 travelers a day.