Franklin Depot/Visitor Center draws large crowd

Published 10:19 pm Thursday, September 25, 2008

FRANKLIN—A standing-room only crowd of local officials and the public were on-hand for Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Franklin Depot/Visitor Center in downtown Franklin.

The former train station’s restoration and conversion into a visitor center marks the building’s triumphant return from first abandonment since the 1960s, and then the devastation of Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

“It is really a treat that we’ve been able to restore this train station and welcome people to Franklin,” said Franklin Mayor James Councill III. “Towns all over America are restoring their train stations.”

Councill described a trip that he and others from Franklin took to Montezuma, Ga. to see how that town had recovered five years after a similar flood.

“They were devastated just like us — they lost everything,” Councill said. “At the center of their town they had a train station just like we do here.”

Kurt Cooper, an engineer with Kimley-Horn and Associates in Richmond, said “it’s taken awhile to get here. The road was long, but crowded with people who wanted to do something good for Franklin.”

The central area of the museum is impressive with its soaring 23-foot high ceilings, its bleach-white walls decked out with old pictures of the Franklin area.

Numerous maps and brochures for other tourist destinations in the region fill the racks.

“We first want to thank Floyd. Is Floyd here?” asked Cooper, to laughter and snickers from the audience.

“Floyd was a very big, very wet hurricane,” continued Cooper. “The floodwaters at this spot were waist-deep. In the aftermath, many agencies from across the state began looking for ways to help Franklin.”

He cited CSX and the Virginia Department of Transportation as being particularly helpful, with VDOT providing the grant money to help finance the project, and CSX making the property available to the city.

“The ribbon-cutting represents the end, or the beginning of the end, of a long recovery (from Floyd),” said Cooper.

Russ Pace, the city’s public works director, thanked the contractor, W.P. Taylor of Franklin.

“Anytime you have construction, it’s easy to build a new building. It’s very difficult to rehabilitate an old building.”

The new visitor center will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and is currently staffed with volunteers.

According to Dan Howe, manager of the Downtown Franklin Association, the museum could someday be certified by the state as an official visitor center, but three of the days the museum is open would need to be Friday, Saturday and Sunday.