So now as the 87-year-old Hart attempts to sell the 631-sqaure-foot lot, he’s not thinking about cashing in — he’s thinking about Dansville. Hart is looking for a buyer who’s willing and able to improve the area for the community, and so far, he’s not sure who that buyer will be.

Old, sturdy file cabinets, drawers, creaky chairs and a desk fill Bob Hart’s office. The desk, a hardwood behemoth with a certain industrial charm, rests just in front of a partially wrecked window in the back of the small, dusty cubicle. A typewriter — not a computer — flanks the desk giving the office an eerie suspended-in-time aura.


But during decades when typewriters still dominated, Bob Hart’s office in the old Dansville and Mount Morris Railroad Company depot was bustled with each passing locomotive.


Hart’s father Frank began working at Dansville’s depot after World War I in 1919, serving as the manager and president. Then in 1950, the railroad’s owners, a group of San Francisco attorneys, decided to sell the short-line railway. Hart’s father was an eager buyer.


Although the railroad ceased passenger service in the late 1930s, it continued to be a vital cog in the local economy, catering to numerous Dansville industries. According to Hart, Foster Wheeler was a major client of the railroad, with as much as 75 percent its business coming from the factory and others like it. Ultimately, as numerous businesses and factories disappeared from Dansville, the railroad faded too.


“The whole transportation industry changed right after World War II,” Hart said. “The trucking industry became more prominent and the railroads turned into long-haul services. There wasn’t a lot of room for the short-line railroad. We were just fortunate we had Foster Wheeler.”


Despite businesses, including his railroad, leaving Dansville over the decades, Hart still sees the village supremely charming and unique.


“You tell me any other place this size in the United States that has a first-class hospital, a first-class school system, a first-class airport, a nine-hole golf course right in the middle of the village,” Hart said. “You can’t find it.”


Indeed, Hart’s love with Dansville is palpable. He served as supervisor for the Town of North Dansville for 43 years, and chairman of the Livingston County Board of Supervisors for 23 years (“I guess they tell me out in Albany they’re both state records,” he says with a nonchalant chuckle).


So now as the 87-year-old Hart attempts to sell the 631-sqaure-foot lot, he’s not thinking about cashing in — he’s thinking about Dansville. Hart is looking for a buyer who’s willing and able to improve the area for the community, and so far, he’s not sure who that buyer will be.


When a prospective buyer wanted to purchase just part of the parcel, a cement building on the lot’s Battle Street border, to have a place to repair cars, Hart rebuked the idea. First, because he wants to keep the lot just that, a single piece of property. And second, in his mind he could already see “one junker out there, then two junkers out there.” You get the idea.


Whoever does decide to buy the former Dansville and Mount Morris Railroad Company property will acquire a site steeped in local history.


Case in point: Livingston County Historian Amie Alden and Liz Argentieri of SUNY Geneseo’s Milne Library spent eight days hauling 48 printer-paper-size boxes of records from the train depot. The paperwork, which includes pension and payroll records as well as daily logs, was an astounding discovery that attracted attention from the New York State Chief Archivist Dr. James Folts. The collection stretches back approximately 100 years, and is meticulously detailed, giving Alden and Argentieri the tough job of sifting through the railroad treasure trove donated by Hart.


Although a preliminary index is already complete, Argentieri explained a more thorough sorting round is set to begin in the fall. She said while she has worked on numerous collections before, she’s never tackled something of this magnitude, and she is looking forward to working with Alden and the historian’s office.


“It’s an opportunity to collaborate with the historian’s office,” Argentieri told The Express. “They have strengths and weaknesses, and we have strengths and weaknesses, so it’s going to be better together.”


Alden, who has known Hart for years, spoke excitedly about the collection and reverentially about the man.


“He has a genuine love for the community and the (railroad) business and an appreciation for having lived through the era,” Alden said. “He’s a pillar of the community.”


The nostalgic, soot-stained railroad era is long gone, but people like Hart (who Alden called a “walking encyclopedia”) keep a glint of that era in modern minds.


As I walked out of Hart’s office, he asked my last name, turned to his typewriter, and pounded out several precise keystrokes. He then handed me a railroad pass from 1934 with my name freshly etched onto the green, paper card.


Maybe more than a glint of a once great, and still proud, industry hangs around in that dilapidated old depot.