The third mural in the Hillsdale Community Mural Project in downtown Hillsdale was completed this summer. It depicts the town’s railroad era. Collegian | Gionna Eden
The third mural in the Hillsdale Com­munity Mural Project in downtown Hillsdale was com­pleted this summer. It depicts the town’s railroad era. Col­legian | Gionna Eden

The glory of the railroad era now stands on display in downtown Hillsdale, pre­served in a mural com­pleted in June.

The mural is the third in the Ladies Beau­ti­fi­cation League of Hillsdale’s Com­munity Mural Project. It depicts an imagined scene from Hillsdale’s railroad era, a time when more than 20 pas­senger trains passed through the town each day, according to the league’s website. Now, the league hopes the mural will bring a little of that railroad-era excitement to modern downtown Hillsdale, and be another kind of benefit to the com­munity.

“Great art brings people downtown to look, shop, eat, and explore,” Laura Smith, founding member of the Ladies Beau­ti­fi­cation League, said.

Artist Wes Hardin designed this mural to feature 10 por­traits of indi­viduals who have greatly impacted the com­munity. This includes the city’s four “founding fathers” — Henry Waldron, Chauncey Ferris, John Potter Cook, and Charles T. Mitchell — who lean against the engine at the left of the painting. At the right of the mural are por­traits of others who also con­tributed to the com­munity, whether recently or in the past. By making a donation to the Hillsdale Com­munity Mural Project, indi­viduals could pur­chase these por­traits on a first-come, first-serve basis, and then pick a face to have added to the wall.

Arlan Gilbert, retired history pro­fessor and Hillsdale College his­torian, spon­sored a por­trait of Ransom Dunn, the founder and first pres­ident of Hillsdale College. Gilbert said he thought Dunn nat­u­rally deserved a place on the mural because of how important the college has always  been to the town. Other por­traits include por­trayals of a World War II fighter pilot and his “Rosie the Riveter” wife, a current res­ident and 55-year member of the Hillsdale Garden Club, and a farmer and strong mason who helped con­struct the Hillsdale Post Office.

The idea for the mural project was born five years ago in the aftermath of the eco­nomic downturn. A group of moms attended Michigan State University’s Small Town Design Ini­tiative in Hillsdale in hopes of finding a way to help the strug­gling city recover. They decided on a mural project as a tan­gible way to unite the com­munity and revi­talize the downtown area. The first mural depicts springtime in Mrs. Stock’s Park circa 1920. The second is located at the Field of Dreams com­munity park and fea­tures a his­toric baseball scene.

The project’s over­ar­ching purpose — and the mission of the league as a whole — is to honor the town’s history, encourage eco­nomic devel­opment, and bring members of the com­munity together through the enhancement and beau­ti­fi­cation of the city.

The com­munity has already rallied together as a result of this project when the town observed Train Mural Cel­e­bration Day on June 12, honking or waving as they passed Hardin throughout the painting process.

According to Smith, a once unre­markable cement wall is now “a spot of beauty, reminding those who pass it of our great his­toric past. It should inspire us all to get on board and love this city we call home.”