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Depot could become welcome center

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Facility would double as new chamber office

By Ben Carlson

The man who helped save the old Lawrenceburg train depot and move it to the US 127 Bypass is back in action, this time to help turn the facility into a welcome center.

C. Michael Davenport said he hopes to generate enough public interest in the project to have the old depot renovated and turn it not only into a welcome center, but a home for the Anderson County Chamber of Commerce and community facility.

“I’m an optimist,” Davenport said while touring the facility Friday morning. “If we can get the community behind this, it will be a great location to welcome people visiting Anderson County and point them toward the rest of what the county has to offer.”

Davenport was scheduled to meet with city and county officials Wednesday morning to lay out his plans and gauge their levels of interest.

The depot has a storied past which includes Davenport’s efforts to save it from being burned down by Northfolk-Southern Railroad about a decade ago.

The depot was built in the 1880s and located along the tracks behind Main Street, but was rendered nearly useless by the early 1980s when it served as an office space for the railroad.

By 2000 its owners applied for a burning permit to get rid of it, but former mayor Bob Thompson declined to issue one.

“A lot of people credit me with saving the depot,” said Davenport, a developer and radio station owner who lives in Franklin County. “But the real credit goes to Bob for not allowing it to be burned.”

Soon after, Davenport purchased the depot and paid to have it moved into the county park. From there a state agriculture grant in 2002 was used to move it to its current home on US 127 Bypass, just north of the community college where it serves as a home for a farmer’s market.

The new plan would include keeping the farmers market at the facility.

During that time, Davenport donated the building to the Anderson County Fiscal Court, but it is slipping into disrepair. Although it has been painted since the move, its exterior paint is peeling badly and, inside, the unused portion of the depot is continuing to deteriorate.

Davenport said he hates to see the building in such condition, and has already agreed to pay to have its exterior painted “a bright color” to help attract more visitors.

The rest of the renovations will be up to how involved the community would like to be.

“This building is an unused treasure,” he said.

“It’s one of only three permanent farmer’s markets in the state, and probably the only one located inside a depot.”

Davenport said the seed for the idea to renovate the building came from Catherine Myers, the chamber’s executive director.

If the project moves forward, Myers said she would move her office from its current location in City Hall into the depot, and said it would make a good home for the county’s tourism commission, too.

E-mail Ben Carlson at bcarlson@theandersonnews.com.