City agrees to take on ownership of Rogersvile Depot to make repairs

Jeff Bobo • Updated Sep 11, 2019 at 9:41 AM

ROGERSVILLE — As if Rogersville doesn’t already have enough historic restoration building projects in the works, now the Board of Mayor and Aldermen is ready to take on the city’s old train station.

On Tuesday, the BMA voted unanimously to accept the 129-year-old Rogersville Depot if Hawkins County, which owns the building, agrees to transfer the deed to the city.

The depot, located at the intersection of Depot Street and Broadway Street, was built in 1890, and the county is about 25 years into a 99 year lease to the Rogersville Heritage Association.

The RHA has its office there, and the Tennessee Newspaper and Printing Museum is also located there.

Rogersville Building Inspector Steve Nelson told the BMA Monday that the county has expressed an interest in transferring the property to the city, rather than undertaking a needed restoration project.

Why transfer the depot?

As a city-owned property, the plan would be for Rogersville to apply for grant funding to restore the building on behalf of the RHA, as it did when the RHA transferred ownership of the Hale Springs Inn to the city in the mid-2000s to acquire grant funding for that restoration.

The county recently put a new roof on the depot, but now the back exterior wall is rotting.

“The outside of the building is in disrepair, and they’re not willing to do any repairs to it,” Nelson told the BMA. “It’s actually a shame. It’s going downhill pretty quick on the backside. I had found a pretty good grant for it, but it didn’t go anywhere. We want to see if the city will take over and maintain that thing.”

Board reaction

“I really think that would be a great enhancement to the city properties,” said Alderman Brian Hartness.

Mayor Jim Sells added, “It’s a historic thing. We’re not losing any taxes on it because the county isn’t paying any taxes. I don’t see a problem with it.”

Alderman Mark Dewitte said, “It’s one of the biggest tourist attractions we have. We can’t afford to let it go to ruin.”

No grant funding this year

The grant would have required a 20 percent match and was not to exceed $200,000, but it expires in October, and there’s no way to meet that deadline this year.

Nelson, who oversees Rogersville’s historic building preservation efforts, RHA Director Melissa Nelson, and Chamber of Commerce Director Nancy Barker told the BMA they will work together to acquire another grant for that project.

Nelson estimates that the depot needs about $80,000 worth of repairs to the exterior.

Too expensive for the county

Hawkins County Properties Manager Sarah Davis told the Times News Tuesday that with several county building and facility projects already underway, there wasn’t enough funding available to take on the depot restoration this year.

“We checked into the grant,” Davis said. “The architect and engineering fees were to be paid out of pocket up front. The expenses were much more than the 20 percent match for the grant. With our pending capital projects such as the justice center sewer project, a new roof for the Church Hill Health Department, and countless other projects on our list, and the fact that our capital projects budget was cut $150,000, we felt at this time we didn’t have the resources for repairs needed at the depot building.”

The proposed depot transfer from county to city will likely go before the commission’s Buildings Committee for a recommendation before it is considered for final approval by the full commission.

Other historic building projects

Assuming that transfer is approved, that would give Rogersville and/or the RHA three pending historic building restorations.

The city is awaiting an architectural and historic study by Tennessee State Historian Dr. Carroll Van West on the 1790s Powel Law Office on Washington Street near the Depot Street intersection.

The hope is that the information contained in West’s study will assist Rogersville, which owns the building, in acquiring grant funding to return the log structure to its original appearance.

West is also conducting a study of the RHA-owned Rogers Tavern on Rogers Street, which also dates back to the 1790s. The goal is to acquire grant funding to restore that structure to its original appearance as well.