National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior

National Register of Historic Places Program:
Women's History Month Feature 2012
Pennsylvania Railroad Depot And Baggage Room, Dennison, Ohio

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources.

 

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Pennsylvania Railroad Depot And Baggage Room
Photograph courtesy of the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum

The Pennsylvania Railroad Depot and Baggage Room in Dennison, Ohio, was famous during World War II for its canteen, where an estimated 1.3 million American service men in the armed forces were served food and drinks on their way to training bases and disembarkation for distant fronts overseas. Nearly 4,000 local volunteers, primarily area women, staffed the canteen, and funds were collected to purchase food, coffee, and other supplies. Every troop train on the Panhandle line stopped at Dennison, located between Columbus, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Free refreshments were offered to the servicemen at any hour of the day or night.  The canteen became so well known and appreciated nation-wide that the town was popularly known among the military forces as “Dreamsville.”

Dennison’s depot is nationally significant for its role in World War II as a canteen, serving members of the American armed forces.  After Pearl Harbor, America’s railroads mobilized in sustained, all-out support of the nation’s war effort.  By the end of the war in 1945, in addition to normal civilian traffic, 90% of all military freight and more than 97% of all military personnel in organized groups were moved by train. This included more than 113,000 troop trains, as total U.S. forces expanded from about one-half million in the late 1930s to over 10 million by 1945.  At the height of the war, a special troop movement started somewhere in the United States every six minutes. In cities and stations throughout the nation, canteens and USO lounges were opened to provide refreshments and relief to servicemen on their long journeys to training camps and embarkation points.

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Pennsylvania Railroad Depot And Baggage Room
Photograph courtesy of the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum

The canteen at Dennison was covered nationally in newspapers and magazines. It was featured in an article in the December 20, 1943 issue of Time magazine and described in a United Press wire service article. The UP article stated that the Dennison canteen “offers a service to men in the armed forces that rivals New York’s Stage Door Canteen and Chicago’s Service Center.” Most of all, the hospitality and generosity of the volunteers serving the canteen were remembered through letters and postcards sent to the canteen from soldiers from soldiers and civilians who had passed through he depot. Many were quoted printed by the canteen during its operation. One such letter read:

" I was able to get only one sandwich for breakfast and the rest of the day I had nothing till we came to Dennison, where a miracle happened. With people behind us we can do only one thing, and that is come out victorious."

Another letter stated:
"We have been through your town several times, at all hours of the day and night, and you were always there with your hot coffee and lunch.  We know you are doing your share, and we will do ours."

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Pennsylvania Railroad Depot And Baggage Room
Photograph courtesy of the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum

Lucielle Nussadorfer of Dennison came up with the idea of reviving the canteen that had operated at the depot for American serviceman during World War I.  Her vision of the Serviceman’s Canteen at Dennison was carried out by Captain and Mrs. Edward Johnson of the Dover Salvation Army, and operated from March 1942, through April 1946, under the direction of the Salvation Army and a local citizens’ committee that included Mrs. Nussadorfer.  The canteen operated out of the depot’s restaurant with the food and other items carried on large wooden trays by the volunteers. At first the volunteers boarded the trains but eventually the procedure changed to the soldiers disembarking and being served on the station platform.

The large number of American women volunteering to help in the war effort, and working in jobs while the men went to fight overseas, changed the fabric of American society. Historian Donna Grave, who served as Project Director for the Rosie the Riveter Memorial (located in the Rosie the Riveter--World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California), wrote in her essay Tending the Homefront: The Many Roles of Bay Area Women During World War II (which can be found at the National Register Travel Itinerary World War II in the San Francisco Bay Area :

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Pennsylvania Railroad Depot And Baggage Room
Photograph courtesy of the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum

As growing numbers of men left for military service in the Second World War, government, industry and civic organizations used patriotism, guilt and the prospect of new opportunities and skills to recruit women to the domestic war effort. Woman power was the critical weapon in FDR's [President Franklin Delano Roosevelt] "Arsenal of Democracy," which was designed to overwhelm the enemy through superior industrial output. Approximately 12 million women worked in defense industries and support services across the Nation, including shipyards, steel mills, foundries, warehouses, offices, hospitals and daycare centers. Throughout the war, women from all backgrounds, and from all over the country, worked at jobs such as welding, riveting and operating cranes while maintaining their traditional duties as mothers and homemakers.

The women who served at the canteen in the Pennsylvania Railroad Depot were doing their part, volunteering to aid the U.S. service men before they were sent overseas to the distant theaters of war against Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and their allies. The great social movement in the lives of women during World War II, whether working as volunteers or in war factories and related jobs for the war effort, brought about changes to American society. DonnaGrave stressed in the above essay,“many women welcomed the renewed emphasis on their central role in the family, others were not so eager to reclaim domestic responsibilities and prewar conditions.”

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Dennison Railroad Depot Museum
Photograph courtesy of the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum

The railroad facilities at Dennison included car and locomotive shops, a blacksmith shop, boiler shop, tin shop, carpenter shop, a roundhouse, brass foundry, lumber and coal yards. The passenger depot as constructed sometime between 1844 and before 1900. Today the Pennsylvania Depot, acquired by the village, is the only former railroad structure still standing in Dennison. The Pennsylvania Railroad Depot at Dennison is basically a rectangular, one and one-half-story, gable roofed building.  It is located on the north side of the tracks, just northwest of the site where the railroad’s shops and roundhouses formerly stood.

The Pennsylvania Railroad Depot And Baggage Room was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on September 8, 1976 and due to its national significance, was designated a National Historic Landmark on June 17, 2011. The Pennsylvania Railroad Depot and Baggage Room, once the third most active canteen in the United States, is now the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum.

Compiled from Jeff Brown, Pennsylvania Railroad Depot and Baggage Room NRHP Nomination, Ohio SHPO May 23, 2007, and Donna Grave, Tending the Homefront: The Many Roles of Bay Area Women during World War II (essay).

Find out more by visiting the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum:
http://dennisondepot.org/