JOHNSTON, S.C. -- A landmark from South Carolina's railroading history is set to be the centerpiece of a rejuvenated 21st-century Johnston.
The old railroad depot, circa 1903, sits empty behind the colorful mural on its outer wall. A relic of 100 years ago, it nevertheless dominates the square at Calhoun and Lee streets. By the dawn of the next century, Johnston Mayor Dean Campbell hopes the old Charlotte, Columbia and Augusta Railroad facility will be humming with activity.
"We're planning to make the old warehouse the centerpiece of the downtown," Mr. Campbell said. "But the project we're planning is a complex one that also includes finishing the streetscape design already completed on one side of Calhoun Street."
The downtown renovation has been kicked off by a grant for $200,000 through the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, and the donation of the old railroad warehouse from the five branches of the Edwards family which has its roots in this small Edgefield County town.
The project, however, is estimated to cost around $500,000, most of it for the renovation of the warehouse. The land where the warehouse sits is leased from Norfolk and Southern Railway for $250 a year, Mr. Campbell said.
The new streetscape will feature underground wiring, old-fashioned lamp posts to match those already installed on the opposite side of Calhoun Street and an island of trees between sidewalk and curbs.
But it is the old warehouse that the mayor and town council have the big plans for.
The old building is all that's left of a train station that included a depot and a waiting room built during the first years of the 20th century, according to Owen Clark, town historian. The depot and the waiting room once occupied the space now taken by the municipal parking lot, having long been moved to other locations in the county.
The warehouse contains three separate sections, with the two interior walls made of brick, Mr. Clark said. These large open rooms, each 3,000 square feet with no connecting inside doors, offer the capacity for a variety of uses.
"We're only limited by our imagination," Mr. Campbell said.
One room is likely to be remodeled into a library to replace Johnston's very small public library now located a few blocks from downtown. Another room could be used as a railroad museum, Mr. Campbell said, or the library and museum could be combined in one of the sections.
"We were founded as a railroad town, and a railroad museum would be a good attraction for the town," Mr. Campbell said.
Offices are planned for at least one section and Mr. Campbell said some area restaurateurs have expressed interest. A medical facility is looking into placing a wellness center or home health care center in the building.
"The commercial uses would provide a source of revenue for the town that would eventually more than pay for any investment the town might have to make," he said.
The town is also seeking additional funding sources and is looking into the possibility of other grants. Architectural plans are set to be completed by the end of 1998 or early 1999 with the work to begin by the middle of next year. If all goes well, the renovated warehouse, to be called the Edwards Building, will be open and dedicated in 2000.
"It has the potential to increase foot traffic because anything we decide to put there will complement the businesses already located downtown," Mr. Campbell said.
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