In 1973, the abandoned Louisville & Nashville Railroad passenger depot here was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a group of citizens formed the Mayor’s Committee to Save the Station.
“I was 2 years old then,” said Chris Poynter, who grew up in Paris. “It took almost 46 years, but we’re finally going to save it.”
One reason it took so long was that the railroad gave the Victorian-style wood frame depot to the city, but kept the land it stood upon. Only recently was Poynter able to negotiate a purchase of the land from CSX Corp., the L&N’s successor, for $30,000.
The city then sold Poynter, who now lives in Louisville and is communications director for Mayor Greg Fischer, and his parents, Darrell and Debbie Poynter of Paris, the station for a token $1 on the condition that they restore it.
“I’ve been dreaming about this project for years,” Chris Poynter said. “The stars just aligned.”
Renovations began in October, and the Poynters are looking for a tenant to turn the depot into retail or event space. When restored, the Poynters figure they will have about $225,000 in the project.
That relatively small investment, plus state and federal historic tax credits to help with renovation costs, will make the project financially viable and put a much-loved building back on the tax rolls, the Poynters said.
This is the third historic Paris building the Poynters have renovated for new uses. The Robneal, built in 1908 as an Odd Fellows lodge and apartments, was reopened in March as apartments and retail space. They also restored a circa 1875 home as a residential duplex.
The Paris depot, two blocks from Main Street, was built about 1880 by the Kentucky Central Railroad, which was acquired by the L&N in 1891. When the L&N began upgrading its Cincinnati-to-Corbin line in 1904, it enlarged the depot. In 1911, new concrete platforms were added.
University of Louisville archivists found old architectural drawings in the L&N files showing the depot’s baggage rooms, ticket office, a general waiting room and separate waiting rooms for blacks and women.
“I grew up right across the railroad tracks, and as kids we used to come over here and play all the time,” Darrell Poynter said. “Of course, they would run us off.”
Ralph Wallace, 89, came to work at the depot in 1952 as a passenger agent. For the first few years, three trains a day in each direction passed through town.
“It could get pretty busy,” he recalled. “There were a lot of passengers to deal with.”
The depot has mostly been empty since passenger service ended in 1968. For a few years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the building housed a popular restaurant, The Iron Rail, where the Poynters often came to eat after church on Sunday.
The depot has held up well despite decades of neglect. The metal roof didn’t leak, and plywood over the large windows kept weather out. The old-growth wood used to build the depot resisted rot better than modern lumber would have.
The old scale and two passenger car seat frames are still stored in the baggage room. “It’s amazing that nobody took these out for all those years,” Chris Poynter said.
The depot sits on 1.5 acres next to a triangle-shaped city park, which has seen little use in recent years. The Poynters are talking with officials about ways to reactivate that space with small concerts and festivals once the depot reopens.
“Most people look at this and say, ‘Dear God, it’s in horrible shape,’” Chris Poynter said. “But this building is beautiful and it’s in great shape. It was well-built, it’s solid and it’s going to shine again.”