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Park house removal ‘big win’ for Railroad Historical Center

January 27, 2019

GREENWOOD, S.C. (AP) — What happens when an ambitious plan to celebrate a city’s past meets present circumstances that stand in the way?

For Greenwood city leaders and custodians of the Railroad Historical Center, the answer is bidding farewell to one noteworthy structure in an effort to make room for a new one.

By early March, a pre-World War I house constructed by former mayor James B. Park will be demolished, opening up sightlines into the Main Street museum and providing more space for eventual construction of a $1.2 million depot, to be paid for through a local option sales tax approved by voters in 2016.

“The house is really impeding visibility of the trains and any future development for the depot,” City Manager Julie Wilkie said. In 2018, the city allocated $250,000 in hospitality taxes to pay for asbestos removal and demolition of the house. “It’ll probably take about three weeks to get all the asbestos out.”

Once complete, the 4,000-square-foot Southern Passenger replica depot is expected to generate nearly $210,000 a year in new revenue, and is seen as a centerpiece of a decadelong push to modernize the entire portfolio. Its stock of train cars have been upgraded, freshly painted and renovated since 2013.

And last summer, a $100,000 wheelchair ramp was installed, paid for through private donations and contributions the state National Heritage Corridor and city hospitality tax dollars.

Wilkie said city leaders see the economic benefit the Railroad Center provides, and look for ways to partner with it on projects that will help it grow.

“They looked at a lot of different options and when it came down to the money of it all, the best option was demolition,” she said. “You couldn’t justify the expense.”

The house was constructed in 1906 by attorney James B. Park, a well-known civic and community leader who served as Greenwood’s mayor from 1901 through 1905. Park died of a heart attack at the home on Nov. 16, 1932. He was 59.

A Laurens native, Park got his law degree from the University of Virginia and moved to Greenwood County in March 1897. During his term as mayor, the city successfully floated a $100,000 bond to develop a sewer system. He also wrote a financial plan to create the Williamston Female College, which is today Lander University.

Park also spent 15 years as chairman of the county’s public school board.

“Within a few years, the Piedmont and Northern Railway was put before the community,” the Index-Journal wrote in an story about Park’s death. “Other places were bidding for it. Mr. Park was not then mayor but as a private citizen he became interested and was a great factor in making possible an offer from Greenwood which secured a line for the city.”

Park’s home was converted into a museum honoring the city’s rich rail history, and officials gathered there in January 1970 to celebrate the presentation of keys from three Piedmont and Northern Railroad cars to organizers.

Plans to raze the Park house were made public as far back as January 2016, when it was included in a proposal by the Museum and Railroad Historical Center to the capital project sales tax committee.

Museum and Railroad Center Committee board member Lew Dorrity said the panel is still considering an optimal location for the depot, but removing the Park house provides more space for programming and other functions.

“We’ve been debating what location would give us the best use of the land,” Dorrity said. “Gaining the visibility, it’s just a big win for us.”

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Information from: The Index-Journal, http://www.indexjournal.com

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