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Depot in 'Dreamsville USA' among sites named national landmarks

By Chelsea Bailey, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New: Dennison Railroad Depot Museum named historic site
  • New: Every summer, the town celebrates with World War II-era block party
  • 14 new sites in 11 states and the District of Columbia were designated
  • Landmarks named as a part of President Obama's "America's Great Outdoors" initiative

(CNN) -- One weekend out of the year, the tiny town of Dennison, Ohio, is transported to the 1940s. The brassy tones of swing music drift from the town center on an evening breeze. Children giggle as they weave through the legs of men in World War II uniforms while women serve lemonade and cookies at town's canteen.

The "American Soldier's Homecoming Celebration" attracts veterans and families, and at the center of it all is the Dennison Railroad Depot.

Today, the sign might read "Welcome to Dennison," but World Wari II soldiers called it "Dreamsville USA." Almost 1.3 million homesick soldiers were served hometown hospitality at the depot's Salvation Army Servicemen's Canteen, according to the depot museum website.

"The town has never really forgotten all of what happened there. It's still alive with the feeling," said Mike Felmlee, a World War II reenactor who volunteers at the celebration.

"It's still alive with the feeling. Many people in the town, whether they were children or adults during the war, remember troops coming through. They get it and the town embraces that time period."

In an effort to preserve such cultural landmarks and highlight their importance, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced Wednesday that the Dennsion depot and 13 other historic sites have been designated national landmarks.

"By designating these sites as national landmarks, we help ... establish a conservation ethic for the 21st century and reconnect people, especially young people, to our nation's historic, cultural and natural heritage," Salazar said.

The new sites were named as a part of President Barack Obama's "America's Great Outdoors" Initiative which tries to promote grassroots conservation initiatives. The landmarks join a growing list of 2,500 other sites in the National Historic Landmark Program.

Wendy Zucal, executive director of the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum, said the town was ecstatic about the designation of historic landmark.

"We've been working on this for over a decade and we're thrilled we can share with World War II veterans that designation. Now their role and the depot's part in that era of our history will always be remembered," Zucal said.

Other sites to receive the designation include the Split Rock Light Station in Minnesota and the homes that inspired 20th-century American painter Andrew Wyeth.

"Some of the landmarks are the best remaining examples of a type of feature in our nation -- sometimes in the world -- and we should continue to recognize and study these important natural features," said Jonathan B. Jarvis, director of the National Park Service.