The railroads, like the stage coach lines before them, were a great influence on the development of Chester Township. Two villages were abandoned when the railroads came, and three new ones sprang up around the newly built depots. The Toledo, Saginaw, and Milwaukee Railroad, running from Sparta to Slocum, had depots in Harrisburg and Gooding, while the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad established a route to Muskegon through Conklin. Of the three villages, only Conklin survived the decline of the railroads.
The line running through Conklin from Grand Rapids to Muskegon opened in 1886. On December 1, 1886, the first train was scheduled to arrive, young Omar Devenport and his father walked along the tracks and flagged down the train. The engineer stopped to pick up Omar and his father, the first passengers from Chester Township to ride the train. The trains moved mail, freight, and passengers, including many Ravenna High School students who rode the train to school.
Area farmers used the trains transport fruit, vegetables, and livestock to market. The Conklin depot included a livestock pen.
During the 1920’s, the railroads declined, but a small, diesel-powered car, affectionately known as the Doodlebug, continued to make two trips through the township daily. The Doodlebug was retired in 1950, and the depot closed in 1958. In 1975, the Michigan Department of Transportation bought the defunct railroad, and the rail line running through Conklin was converted into the Musketawa Trail during the 1990’s.
Chester Railroad Map 1912
Toledo, Saginaw & Muskegon RR – Harrisburg Depot 1917
Last Trip of the Doodlebug, 1950
Grand Rapids & Indiana RR Construction, 1886
GR&I RR – Conklin Depot
TS&M RR – Gooding Depot