Monday, August 8, 2016

The Old Jamestown Train Station

Originally posted: October 29, 2014

The remnants of this old train station have stood here for generations. 
I’m only a visitor in this small town in northern Tennessee. Someone told me this dilapidated building once held some importance to the town – a cultural center of the town’s commerce. As old buildings go, this one seems fairly large and located right along the town’s main thoroughfare. Yes, … yes, as I stand in the parking lot across the street to snap this photo, I can see the resemblance to my remembered images of other old fashioned train stations of a by-gone era I have seen. I can see possible entries to where the passengers may have purchased their tickets, filed-out baggage claim tags and waited-out bad weather or heat of the midday sunshine for the next train. At one end, clearly one sees the freight storage and loading – unloading platform. I can visualize uniformed porters with two-wheeled hand trucks busily moving boxes, small crates and even luggage along the dock staging it for box cars yet to arrive.

The entire upstairs could have been offices for a rail freight line business. I imagine a portly, balding supervisor chewing on a cheap, burned-out stogy and barking orders, while mild-mannered young clerks cowered at their desks – their shirt sleeves held up with garters, their heads wearing green visors to shade their eyes from the morning sunlight streaming through eastern windows – taking his guff and keeping busy on their respective chores. There are many stories which could be created around such a locale, but without the factual research that I really don’t care enough about it to want do. I am only a visitor here. This fictional account will have to do for my purposes.

Far from its hey-day, this old train station begs for some attention.
I walked around the perimeter of the once red painted, now weathered building, keeping a safe distance from potential falling debris, taking photos and imagined it’s appearance in the prime of it’s hey-day. I wondered if anyone alive today had ever traveled from, been associated with or shipped freight from here. I saw no remnants of rail beds, tracks or cross-ties – long ago stripped away in the name of progress or perhaps, recycling or even thievery. I can only speculate. There must be some history to this place. Even if I were able to dig-up something, from the local newspaper, would it make any difference or add to public awareness or education? I doubt it. What the newspaper or land records departments could offer would probably already be common knowledge to local residents.

Weathered siding from the backside of the train station. I just found it "graphic".
Why hasn’t this building been torn down and something new been built in it’s place? Perhaps it is haunted and no one wants to disturb the spirits who still inhabit there. Were there victims, folk heroes or poor sods who were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time who died there? Was there an attempted robbery involved? Was there a shoot-out? Does a ghastly, long since dead train conductor appear from a heavy fog to usher transparent passengers into their seats and take their tickets for a journey to “who-knows-where” as the train pulls out of the station, disappearing into the Halloween late night mist?  Surely, no one is still holding their claim check waiting for their missing carpet bag to show up after all these years.

It's a mystery where these doors lead, but the hustle/bustle of the train station has passed into history.
Alas, it came to me in some sort of mental reality check, that someone still owns the property – perhaps a long, lost relative down the ancestral line of the original business entrepreneur. After all, it resides on a large corner lot near the center of the town which many would very much consider prime commercial real estate. As such, it would be worth a great deal. However, keeping it relatively undeveloped and in the gray area between that of a “heritage” building versus a dilapidated city eyesore, must be keeping the taxes lower and keeping it from being condemned. The owner clearly must pay his taxes or lose the entire property to the city and/or county. Now, I assume that due to the level of local power and influence of the owner, the government rules of eminent domain are clearly being avoided as well. These thoughts lead this writer to believe that the owner still possesses some local power and authority and quite obviously stands to gain substantially from his high position to field any offers that may come along for rights to purchase the property.

However, after a brief conversation with a store clerk, I learned that over the years, the old train station has been many businesses since her prime. At one point, a dry goods store, a game room/arcade and so forth. The person also told me that she has lived here her whole life and there have never been railroad tracks near the building. She appeared in her early 30s and she explained that, the community doesn’t seem to care about the building’s present or future condition, investment potential or anything else. The town could do whatever they want with the building, but they just like it the way it is, where it is and a testimonial to the town’s beginnings. I guess that’s all right with them, so it will be all right with me.

I don’t see this area as a hotbed of enterprise or center for economic growth potential. As I drive through this small community, I see a community that is happy with things the way they are. To give you another indication, the local Walmart is the largest retailer. (Are you surprised?) Goods prices are the same as everywhere else I’ve been, too. I suppose that’s a good thing. What has changed here in the past century? Instead of the train station being the hub of business enterprise in the community, it has been replaced by the Walmart store.

Remembering back as a kid watching the cartoon “Jetsons”, I was really hoping for more progress toward flying cars by the 21st Century.


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