With depot almost in hand, Yemassee says its is en route to revitalized downtown

August 25, 2010 

The Yemassee Revitalization Corp. plans to restore the town's train depot to reflect its original design, as pictured above in a photo from the 1940s, said Susan Sledz, executive director of the revitalization agency. The original depot, built in the 1870s, was replaced in 1955, Sledz said.

PHOTO COURTESY OF PRISCILLA LYONS

  • The Yemassee Revitalization Corp. is planning Oct. 9 and Oct. 10 fundraisers to for train-depot renovations and other downtown revitalization projects. For more information, go to www.yemassee-sc.org or call 843-441-7402.

Yemassee is weeks, if not days, from owning the town's historic train depot -- a move that clears the way for restoration of the shuttered, decaying building and plans for downtown revitalization, officials said.

Yemassee Town Council approved the final deed language and bill of sale Monday to complete the transfer of the Amtrak station and adjoining property from CSX to the town.

The deal should close by mid-September, said Susan Sledz, executive director of the nonprofit Yemassee Revitalization Corp.

The corporation, formed in 2008, is on a mission to breathe life back into Yemassee's downtown, starting with the depot renovation and refurbishment of various town-owned buildings.

"This is pretty much the kingpin project for the revitalization of downtown," Sledz said of the depot.

The historic station, first constructed in the 1870s, was replaced in 1955, Sledz said. The organization plans to restore the depot to its 19th-century look, with a pitched roof and board-and-batten siding, Sledz said.

The station would include an Amtrak waiting room and restrooms and other spaces for commercial or public use, officials have said.

Amtrak trains stop at the station twice a day on their route between New York and Miami. Although more than 12,000 passengers came through the Yemassee station in 2009, the depot building is closed and in rough condition, Sledz said.

Mayor J. L. Goodwin, who took the train from North Carolina to Yemassee in 1954 on his way to boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, hopes the depot again becomes a bustling focal point for the town.

"It was well-kept with a waiting room inside," Goodwin said. "They had a ticket salesman, telegraph operator, a baggage room and restrooms. It was a busy place, especially in those days."

Goodwin later served as a Marine drill instructor at the receiving barracks just behind the depot. There he helped get recruits off the train and to Parris Island, he said.

In all, more than 500,000 Marines traveled through the station, according to a news release from the revitalization group.

Goodwin called revitalization plans exciting and said it will not only improve the depot's looks, but jump-start the economy downtown and possibly create jobs.

CSX will donate the depot building to Yemassee for $1 and will grant easements for access to the building, which sits in the railroad's 50-foot right of way. The Yemassee Revitalization Corp. will buy about three-quarters of an acre of adjoining property from CSX for $7,500, said Paula Flowers, the organization's president. The deal also involved negotiating a lease agreement with Amtrak for its continued use of the station.

Sledz estimated the depot renovation would cost about $500,000. So far, the group has raised about $80,000 through private donations and will work on the project in phases as money becomes available.

The organization also secured a $77,000 Rural Business Enterprise grant from USDA to renovate the old health center on Railroad Avenue. Additionally, it has spruced up the old jail, town hall and post office buildings; drawn up a set of conceptual streetscape plans; and hopes to begin work on Wall Street improvements in 2011.

Yemassee sits about 1.5 miles from Interstate 95 and serves as an entrance to Beaufort County.

The downtown revitalization will not only serve town residents and train passengers, but entice visitors passing through to spend time in town, Flowers said.

The town needs to give travelers a reason to stop, look around and hopefully spend some money, she said.

A revamped train station "will give us something we can be proud of when people ask where our downtown is," Flowers said.

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