Former Milton train depot wracked in fire, state investigating
MILTON--A piece of Milton’s railroad history stood in charred ruin as investigators sifted through the burned-out interior of Liberty Station, seeking clues as to how the former train depot caught fire late Wednesday.
Milton police, the Rock County Sheriff’s office and a state Division of Criminal Investigation arson team today were working to learn the cause of the fire officials say gutted Buckaroo’s BBQ and Bucked Off Saloon, at 231 Front Street.
Damage totals still weren’t available, but Milton Fire Department Deputy Chief Rob Calhoon said the wood and stucco building, which served as a passenger train depot at Milton Junction from 1924 to the early 1970s before housing a string of restaurants, was heavily wracked by fire, smoke and water Wednesday night.
“We had to wait until daylight today to get an accurate idea of the scope of things, but I can say the inside of the building is extensively damaged,” he said.
A train caboose that’s part of the property, and a Beloit-built Fairbanks Morse Engine that the city owns near the building also were damaged in the fire, officials indicated.
Calhoon said it’s still not clear how the fire started, or whether it was accidental or set on purpose. He would not characterize what state investigators’ presence on today signified.
“It means that it’s an investigation,” Calhoon said. “We’re not ruling anything out.”
Milton Police Chief Dan Layber, himself a former DCI investigator, said it’s too soon to know what caused the fire or whether it was a possible arson.
“It’s way too early to say if it was accidental or someone torched the place. It’d be pure speculation,” Layber said in a phone message to the Gazette on Thursday.
Janesville locomotive enthusiast Bill Heurser is part of a group that works to preserve Milton’s railroad history. On Thursday, Heurser said he wasn’t ready yet to see the burned out former depot.
Heurser talked about the depot site’s history, pointing to a time in 1910 when Teddy Roosevelt’s congressional campaign stopped there during a whistle stop. He said the building has no registered historical designation, although it’s been home to a handful of popular local restaurants since the early 1980s.
After viewing media images of the burned building, Heurser said he feared that with the interior damage from the fire and the water damage to the building’s old stucco, it could now be a lost cause.
“It’s a real shame,” Heurser said. “That depot was once the center of this community, even though it was way out on the west end of town.”
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