Depot owner seeks property designation
After more than a year of work, the 99-year-old Greenback train depot - once dull, dusty and in disrepair - has been transformed into a rustic, but attractive, facility for the community.
People are already scheduling family friendly events for the community, such as concerts, birthday and anniversary parties, quilt shows and craft fairs.
The building now has handicap accessible restrooms added in a separate but attached building at the end and a small stage area for events. There is space for tables and chairs. The second story addition was removed and the building opened to the rafters in both rooms.
After years of use as a warehouse for fertilizer and boat manufacturing facility, owner Ron Edmondson is working to get it listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
"I am begging and pleading with folks from Washington to Knoxville, and if I can get the application in by June 1, they tell me I can get accreditation by Sept. 1," Edmondson said. "We've come a long way, but we have a long way to go."
He is anxious to get the designation because it will open doors for the next steps of his long-range plans. He is looking for an old train engine or caboose to add to the ambiance of the property. An architect has developed conceptual drawings for what the depot property and surrounding area could become in the future, while preserving the memory of what it was in the past.
In addition to working on the building, Edmondson has spent a year collecting information about the historic building, as well as compliments from appreciative Greenback residents.
The building today consists of two large rooms and small waiting room. The upper floor office space had been an addition and is now removed. The largest room, 75 feet long and 25 feet wide, was the baggage and shipping area of the building. Designed for heavy use, the floor is made of boards two inches thick. The lower room, a waiting area for passengers, was 45 feet long by 20 feet wide.
A loading dock extension was added when the building was occupied by the Greenback Co-Op.
Heather Bailey, preservation and housing planner for the East Tennessee Development District, is helping with the application process. Carolyn Peck, Greenback Historical Society member, is assisting with collection of historical information about the depot.
Built in 1914, the depot was the second in Greenback.
"Fortunately, railroads kept meticulous records," Bailey said. "I was able to get original floor plans for the building, and it cleared up some things we had questioned."
Constructed in the Jim Crow period of the South, when "separate but equal" was considered the standard for equality, the building includes a small 10-by-10 foot room sectioned off from the larger waiting room.
"A lot of people remembered that the little room was used as a waiting room for African Americans," Bailey said. "When we were able to see the floor plans, we learned that they were right."
Train depot buildings have become popular historic preservation projects in recent decades. They have become museums, offices, retail shops and more. Public funds are sometimes available for buildings of historical value if public entities or nonprofit agencies apply, Bailey said.
The city of Loudon train depot is owned by the city and leased to the Loudon County Chamber of Commerce and Loudon County Education Foundation. The building also has public rooms that serve as areas for historical displays or art exhibits.
Penny McLoughlin, Edmondson's friend and assistant with the project, said the depot restoration has brought many people by the building who shared stories of their memories.
"There used to be an old corn mill on the site and a saw mill at one time," McLoughlin said. "Ronnie is open to ideas about how this place should be used. He is afraid people won't keep it up. It is so charming now. It would be a shame if he did all this work and put so much of himself in it if nobody appreciates it."
Edmondson said he hopes to get the building restored and would like to see it owned and used by the city of Greenback or for a museum by the Greenback Historical Society.
Peck asks that anyone with information on the depot - including pictures, stories or artifacts - contact her by mail at Carolyn M. Peck, 600 Donaldson Light Lane, Lenoir City, TN. 37772, by phone at 865-986-1681 or email CarolynPeck@ymail.com.