It was known as Dreamsville, USA.
Tucked in a small village in Tuscarawas County is a reminder of the American spirit during World War II as countless men and women answered the call to fight overseas.
It was here in Dennison that an army of 4,000 volunteers from Tuscarawas County and surrounding counties made sandwiches and sweets and coffee that was passed out to train after train full of soldiers, sailors and Marines as they crossed the country.
Wendy Zucal, director of the depot turned museum, said “if you were a soldier leaving town, hungry and afraid, and you pull into a little town, [Dennison] was a dream come true.”
The Dennison Railroad Depot Museum was the scene of a nostalgic ceremony Monday to mark its designation as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. This the first such designation in Tuscarawas County and the 70th such landmark in Ohio to make the list.
Among the more than 200 people who turned out for the dedication of the landmark plaque at the depot was Jayne Roe, 88, who volunteered for two years to pass out food to the military men traveling through town.
“When we heard the trains, we would come down,” said Roe, who helped lead the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at the ceremony with World War II veteran Ed Griffin.
During the war, an estimated 1.3 million service members visited the depot as the trains stopped for 15 minutes to get water for the engine on the rail line midway between Pittsburgh and Columbus and about 60 miles south of Akron.
Last one left
There were 12 WWII canteens like Dennison in Ohio — in Alliance, Marion, Bellefontaine, Galion, Bucyrus, Dennison, Lima, Crestline, Troy, Athens, Mansfield and Springfield. But the Dennison is the last one left, said Zucal.
The Dennison canteen was the third largest in the country.
The largest was in North Platte, Neb. The Salvation Army operated the Dennison canteen.
The canteen was also operated during World War I and hosted some 200,000 service members.
Richard Mallernee, 87, of Dover, said he left Ohio on the train out of Dennison to go to Marine boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. He later served in the Pacific and retired as a math teacher.
Asked Monday what the train depot and the thousands of volunteers who helped out young service members like him meant to him, Mallernee’s voice broke down with heavy emotion.
“Quite a bit,” he said. “Quite a bit.”
Zucal said the troop trains that passed through Dennison often carried 500 to 800 soldiers.
“These guys aren’t traveling with money,” she said. “A happy soldier is a well-fed soldier.”
Even if you put every dining car available on those trains, she said, it was still impossible to feed everyone, so the canteens were born.
“That is why all these canteens popped up with free food,” she said. “We are the most direct route between New York to St. Louis.”
Dennison Mayor Tim Still said America “must never forget” what took place in Dennison many years ago.
Korean War veteran John McElhaney, 80, of Tippecanoe, passed through Dennison during the Korean War before going overseas, but the train never stopped.
“This brings tears to my eyes, thinking of the dedication of the women and the men who served,” he said. “Think of those who never came back. Those are the heroes.”
Big band music, reminiscent of the music heard on the radio in the war years, played on loudspeakers at the depot Monday. A sign outside the depot read: History Matters.
Sherda Williams, national park superintendent of the President James A. Garfield Home, spoke during the ceremony of the importance of the brick train depot in Dennison.
“These places are sign points to recognize what we hold to be important to our past,” she said. “They show us the way we traveled to become the nation we are today,”
The sacrifices necessary for winning the war, she said, “were shared here at home, in towns like Dennison, in other towns in Ohio.”
She said it was “everyday people” like those in Dennison and other towns and cities across Ohio and the nation who “stepped up and gave of themselves to find a way to support the war.”
She said the Dennison Depot, built in 1873, “is the last remaining example of the track-side canteens of the U.S. …Yes it is appropriate to recognize a relatively small railroad depot as a national landmark. This is where ordinary people of this area came together in an extraordinary effort.”
The nation, she said, can find inspiration from what happened at the depot.
“This reminds us that a previous generation saw a need and stepped forward in service,” she said.
Over the years, many railroads operated the track at the depot, including the Steubenville and Indiana Railroad; the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis Railway; the Pennsylvania Railroad; Penn Central; and Conrail.
At the turn of the 20th century, Dennison was a huge railroad town. There were 40 acres of railroad shops, 21 passenger trains and 21 freight trains that passed through the village, and 3,000 railroad employees.
In 1992, the Ohio Central Railroad System began to operate the line and now it is called the Columbus & Ohio River Railroad.
Tourist train excursions are now operated out of the depot, along with the museum.
For more information about the depot, call 740-922-6776 or visit http://dennisondepot.org.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.