Reborn Walker Power Building to showcase unearthed railroad turntable

Reborn Walker Power Building to showcase unearthed railroad turntable

Read the Windsor Star article below to find out more about the recently-discovered 1880s railroad turntable that will be displayed at the Walker Power Building.


Brian Cross 

A recently discovered 1880s railroad turntable will be preserved and put on display beneath a glass floor in the Walker Power Building currently undergoing an $11-million rebirth.

Right now, the turntable looks like a Roman ruin unearthed by archeologists, located about six feet beneath the building’s ground floor and sharing the excavated base with the building’s big columns.

“This thing here is one of the oldest structures around here, I don’t think there’s anything this old,” structural engineer Piero Aleo of Aleo Associates, a part-owner of Walker Power Building Inc. and quarterback for the project, said Wednesday as he showed off the discovery. He always knew about the presence of the turntable somewhere on the site, which was a sprawling rail yard in the late 1800s before the Walker Power Building was constructed in 1911-1913.

In the days of steam engines, it’s not so easy to run them backwards like diesel, so you have to turn them

“My surprise was how intact it was,” he said. “There was zero demolition done. The timbers were there, the rails were there. They basically just buried it, and built a building on top.”

Insurance maps from around 1880 show not just the turntable, but a water tower and a roundhouse for fixing locomotives. The water tower foundation has also been discovered, and the roundhouse foundation is likely to the west of the building, yet to be unearthed. The turntable was only discovered because they had to break up the concrete ground floor and haul away contaminated soil beneath, replacing it with clean fill. They came upon the turntable beneath the northwest corner of the building.

“We’re going to preserve this,” Aleo said as he pointed out notches in the concrete turntable where old timbers had been located. Another larger notch was where the track would connect to the turntable, so trains could enter and be turned around 180 degrees.

It’s symbolic of the about-face for the building, which sat vacant for 19 years and in a state of severe deterioration before Aleo and his partners bought it for $899,000 more than two years ago.

A lot of people thought this building should be condemned, there’s was no hope for it, but we turned that around,” he said.

He envisions the turntable serving as a unique feature for a main-floor tenant, such as a coffee shop. “You’ll walk over the glass and see the turntable below,” he said. Preserving it, replacing the timbers, building a curved rail to contain it, and covering it with glass will probably cost an extra $100,000.

“I think it’s worth it,” Aleo said, citing the interest the discovery has already raised, particularly from railroad enthusiasts.

“We’re not doing this project to make money, honestly. We (Aleo Associates) are going to be moving here, it’s going to be our home for the rest of our lives.”

Railroad historian Tim Swaddling was surprised to find the turntable still intact, when he was invited to take a look.

“It was kind of odd to see it laid out like that. It was almost like the building was positioned so they didn’t have to rip out that turntable pit,” said Swaddling, who’s thrilled the turntable will be preserved.

“It’s gong to be an interesting part of our history and it incorporates that history into a project which celebrates Windsor’s industrial history.”

He said the turntable preservation is an example of how the Walker Power Building restoration shows respect for the neighbourhood and celebrates local history. “I think that sets a great standard for other people doing similar projects.”

Swaddling believes the turntable was built in the early 1880s as part of the origin point of the Lake Erie, Essex and Detroit River Railroad, started by whisky baron Hiram Walker to bring grain from the county to his distillery and to bring tourists to Kingsville’s lakefront. A standard turntable can be 110 feet in diameter but this one is no more than 70 feet, able to accommodate the very small locomotives used on the rail line.

“In the days of steam engines, it’s not so easy to run them backwards like diesel, so you have to turn them,” said Swaddling.

When the land was sold to make way for the Walker Power Building, a new turntable was built just south of Wyandotte Street. The line changed ownership, to Pere Marquette and eventually to Chesapeake and Ohio, which ran the line from 1947 to 1987. The line is now the Chrysler Canada Greenway.

One of the original tenants of the 63,000-square-foot building — which is actually two buildings, constructed in 1911 and 1913 — was Walkerville Light and Power, owned by the Walkers.

Tenants have signed up for more than half the space in the building. An accounting firm is taking the entire second floor. Lawyer Pat Ducharme, a partner in the project, is relocating his firm to the fourth floor. A local restaurant is taking 4,500 square feet on the main floor fronting Devonshire Road. And Aleo is adding a fifth floor, set back from the existing facade, to house his offices, common area for tenants and large terraces on the east and west sides. The view from that top floor will be pretty special, Aleo said.



Rob Gruich
Rob Gruich Sales Representative (519) 818-8989 (519) 735-7222

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