Designs On A Depot

Published 3:38 pm Tuesday, February 7, 2012

PROSPECT – Next to what once used to be the train tracks running through the heart of the Prospect community is a burned-out shell of a building.

The Prospect Depot isn't much to look at any more with its charred timbers and protective orange fencing, but it stands there waiting, like The Phoenix, for just the right time to rise from the ashes.

That time, after an arduous journey, has nearly come.

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“This area right here was the ticket station master's office, telegraph-all of that was in there,” Fred Floyd, President of the Prospect Historical Society said on a bitter January day tour around what was left of the building. “These two were waiting rooms.”

Floyd, like many in the community associated with the project, is a visionary. He remembers what was and can see what will be.

The Prospect Historical Society, coordinating with the County, has banked a healthy sum of grant funds over the years to re-build/remodel the depot-to the tune of just over half a million dollars (though some in-kind match is required). The dedicated group of supporters has fought long and hard to keep it-restore it. Give it life.

And now, teaming up with the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), it will soon have exactly that.

The area Floyd points to is close to the dividing point of the building between what is gone or nearly gone, and that which survives. The ticket area juts out just a tad from the rectangular structure and one can, with a close look, still see the wooden outline at the bottom of the wall. The west end of the building is mostly intact, if weathered, and is the oldest. Giant gray foun-dational stones have survived both time and fire to support what is left.

The east end of the depot (added about 1880), where the fire began that early Sunday morning in June of 2000, is essentially gone. A tree has grown up through the floor since that fateful night. (The fire was suspected to be arson).

Shredded remnants of the tarp the Historical Society used to cover the damaged building offers a reminder of the journey. It was whisked away long ago by strong winds, exposing that which had survived the elements.

There's also the reminder of time alone. Some of the early visionaries involved with the project have passed on and will not see the depot come to life again.

But, after years of planning and waiting and dreaming, the day is near-though the original vision has changed slightly.

“…The Prospect Depot is not gonna be used like it was originally intended, which was like a little community muse-um…meeting room kind of space,” cited County Economic Development Director Sharon Carney. “There's still (going to) be room for that, but they're partnering with the Department of Conservation and Recreation and in that building, once it's done, it will house…park ranger offices.”

What will come from the ashes will be a building that, on the outside, will appear much the same as its predecessor, but be more functional to suit its new purpose.

“When we finish here, the outside of this building will look exactly like it did when it was a station,” Floyd says. “Even to the freight doors-will be there. They'll be stationary and entrance doors will be built into them.”

There will be restrooms with running water (a rarity for the trail) and room for museum displays along the walls. Floyd notes they're “still collecting,” though they do have an old cart (minus wood) used to load freight off of the train. Some of the wood from the burned out building, if possible, may just find its way into the new construction.

“And its primary focus will be, because of its rural nature and at that end of the trail, it will probably become a primary horse trailhead,” Ms. Carney said, noting that “there's enough land in that area to bring those horse trailers and stuff in there.”

She's thinking ahead, looking for an antique horse trough.

That is, of course, still on the not-too-distant horizon. The next step on the journey will be to send the plans through the re-view process through the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Virginia Department of Transportation. That is expected to take more time, involve a few more hoops to navigate.

Ms. Carney was hopeful they would go to bid in May and that construction could start by fall.

She also offered that she is “confident” that they can get the building rehabilitated for the amount of grant money they have.

“Getting the agreement with DCR to partner with the Prospect Historical folks was…the key answer to this,” she said. “And the match money that's required is coming out of very generous donations. We don't have everything earmarked at this point, but it's beginning to filter in.”

There is history in Prospect, of course. According to Floyd, the depot is either the oldest or second oldest station on the line. He noted that they know it was completed by 1854 because of board of directors of the Southside Railway Company, which was the original line from Lynchburg to Petersburg, met there in May of 1854.

It's also been highlighted in the past that several Civil War books refer to the station at Prospect as a place that federal groups congregated before marching to Appomattox and appears on maps showing Grant's pursuit of Lee.

While General Lee did not come through Prospect, General Sheridan did, looking for Lee's supply train. General Grant, Floyd details, came back through Prospect after Appomattox, staying at a house that now no longer exists.

Grant funds previously developed construction plans to 80 percent and County supervisors took action in December to ramp the plans to 100 percent (or a total of $121,000, 20 percent of which-$24,000-in that is a match, though that can be factored in contributions including the land).

With grant funds available and project supporters, it now seems a matter of time.