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Eyesore may find new life as museum

GUTHRIE — When the 120-year-old building just wouldn't fall down, Guthrie Mayor Scott Marshall decided something else had to be done about the eyesore.

Marshall is now pushing to have the building renovated and converted to a transportation museum and tourist attraction for the town of 1,500 on the Kentucky-Tennessee state line.

The Kentucky New Era reports that Guthrie could be just weeks away from approval of its third grant that would allow the town's revitalization team to begin transforming the two-story building into an 8,000-square-foot museum. Two grants have already been awarded for the project, and the third — a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant — would give the venture $1.4 million in funding, likely covering a majority of the project.

"I guess it's my paramedic training that ties in here," Marshall said. "We're going to have to resuscitate an old building. We can't give up on it."

The building, which housed a department store for 40 years, has long been an eyesore, with the roof and second floor having partially collapsed to ground level, a freight elevator pulling half of the back wall down with it. The gaping hole exposes the building's interior to passersby. Worn T-shirts and blouses hang neatly from a pair of racks upstairs, though no vendor has occupied the space in about 20 years.

But nothing — not an earthquake, harsh winters or summer storms — could bring it down.

Architects visited the building but were only able to step 3 feet through the door, said Tracy Robinson, executive manager of Silver Triangle Main Street. The non-profit organization writes grants for community projects like this one.

"You can't go in it," Marshall said. "Had we been able to get some of this started sooner we would have been able to do a whole lot more work with it."

Plans call for the inside of the building to be gutted while keeping the brick exterior intact, including a vintage advertisement for 5-cent bottles of Coca-Cola.

Matt Bailey, a Guthrie native working toward his master's degree in architecture at the University of Kentucky, is giving direction for the project. Bailey, 24, has no memory of the building ever being occupied, but knows the stories from people around town and the memories the building carries.

The "tradition" of the building won't change, Bailey said, but he wants to tweak it enough to give it a modern touch. In addition to historical preservation, the plan is to implement as many environmentally-friendly elements into the structure as their budget will allow.

"It's one thing we wanted to look at because of grants in the future that have certain guidelines," Bailey said.

The idea for making it a transportation museum came from over the small town. Railroad tracks intersect from all directions, which helped the town flourish in the early part of the 20th century. It brought visitors — including gamblers and bootleggers — from all across the region.

Koppers Industries, Todd County's oldest industry, specializes in railroad ties. U.S. 41, which was the primary route between Chicago and Miami before interstates, also runs through Guthrie.

"Our transportation history goes back to the stagecoach days," Marshall said. "Once we get (the museum) done, it'll be a good fit."

Marshall doesn't know when construction will begin and, given the problems with getting the project moving over the last seven years, he doesn't want to guess.

"As soon as I say (a date), something will go wrong," he said. "It's been a long process trying to get the funding, but I think once we get into it, it's going to be a good project."