This was our second visit to Cass. We passed through in late April and everything was shuttered and closed, however the restored turn of the century depot intrigued us and we subsequently learned from our host at the Brazen Inn some of the history of the place. We returned here at the end of May to find it a beehive of activity.
The whole town has been restored to its former glory by the government. Ongoing construction is centered on the old company homes and all are available for rent. To add to its attraction Cass Scenic Railroad (State park designation) operates from the restored depot. Passengers can choose from a variety of trips [see overview], two regular scheduled runs offer a 2-hour ride to Whittaker station, or 5 hours to Spruce or Bald knob. At Whittaker you can take a self guided tour of an old logging camp.
We didn’t take the train but intend to do so on our next visit. Instead we wandered around the town, its reconstructed wooden walkways are similar to the actual sidewalks that would have existed at that time. Built from second grade lumber they served to keep townspeople out of the muddy streets.
The first building of note is the company store. Built around 1902 this store was the largest company store in the country. Inside you will find a large selection of souvenirs, books and a video commentary describing the train ride and the area. The Museum was closed for lunch in it are photographs and memorabilia of the district; it is a very small building. A large restaurant once part of the loggers dining hall has a full menu of fast foods, homemade pies and sundries. We had a coffee and grilled cheese sandwich there after our walk. All food and drink are served in throwaway plastic! I was very taken with the plastic tablecloth with humorous adverts of the 30s one advert promised dramatic transformation of the breasts showing a plunger and cream! Looked a bit painful to me.
The post office is next door to the store; we mailed a few cards and chatted to the old postmistress. She told us the building was previously the meat market, in its day it catered to up to three thousand residents.
A short walk from the store brings you to the Cass hotel the hotel was built in 1902 and only "upstanding" folk stayed there. Directly across the river from the hotel other types of businesses thrived running seamy hotels and bars that became known as Dirty Street therefore guests of the Cass Hotel took great pains to point out they were on the "right side of the tracks." This original structure is presently empty it was actually two buildings connected by a two story porch you can still see the door that would have opened to the second story porch.
The homes along Main Street look as if they are identical in fact they started out that way. Company workers had the option of buying or renting, buyers usually added porches or additions but the deed of purchase contained a clause that the homes could only be sold back to the company at the exact purchase price. Most of the homes are three or four bedrooms, kitchen dining area and living room. All these homes now rent for the night, day, or week at a cost of around $500 for a four-person house. All come with bedding, fully equipped kitchen, and TV, but no phone—nearest phone is outside the company store.
When we arrived in Cass the train was idling in front of Cass depot passengers were boarding for a 5-hour trip to Spruce knob Plumes of thick choking black smoke filled the atmosphere and I thought of the conditions residents of these towns lived battling grimy soot polluted air and a harsh exploited life a far cry from the Cass of today with its pristine river and stunning scenery.