After sitting abandoned for years, the city reopened its renovated 1882 Savannah, Griffin, and North Alabama Railroad Depot on Bradley Street and a building in disrepair has been transformed into a captivating public venue. It came 130 years after the station first opened.
Passenger service ended in the 1960s and freight service at the station stopped two decades later.
“This is a dream-come-true,” said Carrollton Mayor Wayne Garner. “Two years ago, I thought ‘this will never happen, we just need to push this old building down, cry, and go on with life’. I’m glad we didn’t.”
It was also a night to highlight the region’s burgeoning wine grape industry. The Vineyard and Winery Association of West Georgia’s second wine tasting of 2012 served as the “soft opening” for the depot.
“It’s awesome,” Doug Mabry, CEO of the winery group, said of the depot. “It’s going to be the premier event facility between Atlanta and Birmingham.”
Mabry said 175 people attended the event, including local and state dignitaries.
“We had around 100 people at the May 18 wine tasting at the Carrollton Cultural Arts Center,” said Michelle Lewis of the Carroll County Extension Office. “These events are so great for the county.”
Guests were as much interested in the refurbished depot as they were in the American Heritage Hybrid wines that were being served.
“It’s great, bigger than I thought. I don’t feel I am in Carrollton,” said Karen Larsen of Carrollton.
Husband Ed Larsen was also wowed. “We were astonished when we walked in here,” he said.
“Great restoration,” said Dea Baxter, who drove down from Temple to see the depot. “It’s going to be a lovely venue for parties and receptions so I think Carrollton will really benefit from this.”
“It looks wonderful tonight,” said contractor Jim Mykytyn of Draketown. But he remembers entering the depot two years ago.“When we first came in, our job was to get the bird feces out of the building, which took several days. The building was in such a state of disrepair back then.”
While the mayor and other city leaders are excited about the opening, they admit the building is not quite finished. Workers were putting the finishing touches on the floor as late as Friday. The depot opens officially in January.
“We have a couple of weddings on the books and receptions in the back-half event facility,” said Jessica Reynolds, executive director of Carrollton Main Street, who will oversee depot operations. She said the rental fee for the event facility is $1,500.
The 9,500-square-foot structure was rescued by the city two years ago and the Friends of the Carrollton Depot, a group of 240 citizens, has overseen its rehabilitation. While the rear warehouse area is the event center, the depot’s front, formerly the passenger area, will become a museum and a place to house Carrollton memorabilia.
“It’s exciting to see this historic piece of property that’s been reinvented and returning to life,” Reynolds said. “And to have it in our downtown is even better.”
Mayor Garner said the depot refurbishment will cost $1.25 million. That’s below the original $4 million budget projection. City officials credit the use of inmate labor for much of the savings.
When they weren’t admiring the train depot, visitors were enjoying wines from the same grapes that West Georgia Winery members are now growing: Blanc Du Bois, Lenoir and Norton.
Wine association CEO Doug Mabry said the first West Georgia crops will be harvested next year.
“We expect two tons of fruit,” Mabry said. And by 2014, he said the first two area wineries should be open for business.
And that’s good news for the entire region.
“This is an agricultural commodity that has great potential of increasing the agricultural value here in Carroll County,” said county Extension agent Paula Burke. “And it keeps some farmland active that might otherwise have been developed or grown up to brush.”
Depot visitors also got a taste of another new Carrollton attraction. The Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum had six quilts on display in the old station, four large ones made by adult quilters and two smaller ones crafted by students at Bowdon Elementary School.
“It’s more exposure for us,” said Beverly Hammack, a member of the Quilt Museum Board of Directors. “And it’s another extension of what we have to offer in Carrollton, from Adamson Square down to the depot.”
With the party over, it’s back to work. Crews will continue the task of finishing the depot, in time for its Jan. 1 opening. And the winery group is holding an economics workshop starting at 9 a.m. today at the Carroll County Ag Center, 900 Newnan Road, Carrollton.
“Every meeting we’ve had so far has been about planting and spraying,” Mabry said. Now he’s hoping to move members to the next phase. “We’re getting to the stage where we need to talk about what’s required for licensing, producing, and marketing.”
To help out, members will hear from Joe Smith, a consultant with Serenity Cellars in Cleveland, Ga., who will discuss winery startups.
Cheryl Smith of the Georgia Tourism Department will describe the impact of wineries on tourism across the Peach State and Cindy Norton, agri-tourism manager for the Georgia Department of Agriculture, will discuss how the grape growers will fit into the state’s “Georgia Grown” campaign.
The West Georgia winery group has come a long way in a short time.
“I thought it would just be growers in a few local counties,” Mabry recalled. But he said the association now has members in 28 Georgia counties and nine states, including Missouri and California. While he thinks the business here will only grow and improve, Mabry admits that the whole undertaking “is wearing me out.”