Photo by Lisa Bicknell
Pictured from left: Joe Crawford, Chris Harpole, Sandy Dunahoo, Shantel Davis, Chris Campbell, Erik Hendrickson, and Kevin Williams.
By LISA BICKNELL
CV&T News Editor
The air was steamy, but the air electric as hundreds gathered at the Ravenna Veteran’s Memorial Park on Saturday afternoon for an announcement that is expected to bring economic revival to the area.
Officials with Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation(KSHC), a non-profit rail preservation group, said they are in the process of purchasing nearly 50 acres of property from CSX Transportation. The retired Ravenna Car Shop located on that property will be repurposed as a rail-based tourist attraction and community development center.
The car shop has been closed for several years, but it will be re-opened to restore, preserve and display train engines and other pieces of railroad history.
Plans are to eventually bring Chesapeake and Ohio Steam Locomotive 2716 to town, and it will serve as the first restoration project.
The yard office, once the old freight depot, will be the site of a museum of sorts, but Chris Campbell, president of KSHC, says it will be much more than that.
“The Kentucky Rail Heritage Center will be a destination where people can experience the operation of historic rail equipment, take their dog for a walk, and get a bite to eat at a local restaurant, all on the same visit,” he said in a press release. “We can’t thank CSX enough for providing the opportunity to creatively infuse the local and regional economy.”
He also said it will be the first time in more than a century that the property has changed hands.
Several officials spoke at the announcement ceremony, including Congressman Andy Barr.
“Ravenna’s railroad history is one to be recognized and celebrated, as it brought tremendous economic growth to Estill County,” he said.
“We’ll remember this day for a long time, I promise you,” said Estill County Judge-executive Kevin Williams.
When Estill Development Alliance Director Joe Crawford stepped to the podium, he said it was “a wonderful day to be in Ravenna and Estill County.”
“Today we stand in reverence to the CSX Corporation…for the dinners on the table…the kids in school..the house payments they’ve helped make,” he said.
Shantel Davis, vice-president of real estate and facilities for CSX, announced that CSX has also donated to the center a historic 1969 caboose, used on freight trains until last year.
Senator Mitch McConnell sent a letter, calling the development “an important step toward preserving the unique culture of our Commonwealth.”
“Visitors to this facility will have the chance to learn about the vital rail lines that have helped Kentucky fuel American prosperity for generations.”
Not only will the center provide a history lesson for interested parties, but KSHC plans to partner with the Estill County School system to establish a technical skills training component where vocational students can “practice modern trades on historic equipment.”
Students will learn skills such as welding and pipe fitting, which can be widely applied in other settings.
According to a press release from KHSC, CSX has been working with the non-profit and local community leaders for more than a year on the endeavor.
The project will, of course, cost a lot of money. Funds will be needed to improve the buildings and track on the rail yard grounds.
Vice-president of KHSC Chris Harpole said, “Fundraising is our first and most important aim.”
“Without significant investment, this will take time to get going. But, with proper funding, we envision being up and running by late 2018.”
He said the group hopes to raise $300,000 in the first three months of the project, and $500,000 by year’s end. Contributions will help provide matching funds for federally-funded ARC grants.
KSHC’s long term vision for attracting visitors to the multi-use campus also includes providing the community with a meeting and event space and offering rail excursions within the yard.
CSX will continue to own and operate the main track line that runs closest to River Drive.