More than 200 people came out in a steady rain Saturday to welcome back an old friend: the Louisville & Nashville Railroad depot, which had mostly stood abandoned and crumbling since passenger train service ended 50 years ago.
After a complete renovation, the Victorian-style depot now houses Trackside Restaurant and Bourbon Bar. Opening night was a sellout, with 300 people served.
“I had been dreaming of this project for 25 years,” said Chris Poynter, who helped his parents, Darrell and Debbie Poynter, restore the beloved local landmark. “The stars finally aligned.”
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Until last year, many people had feared the depot would be lost.
“Before they bought it, I got to where I wouldn’t look at it when I drove by because I figured it was only a matter of time before it fell down,” said photographer Bobby Shiflet, who owns Frames on Main Gallery downtown.
The depot was built in 1882 and expanded in 1908 and 1911. For many of the 86 years it was in service, the depot was a bustling place, linking this prosperous farming community to the outside world.
More than a century ago, while campaigning for president, Teddy Roosevelt made a whistle-stop speech at the depot. Legend has it that Carrie Nation, the temperance firebrand famous for taking a hatchet to saloons, also came through on a train.
“She stopped and somebody said, ‘We ain’t got no bars here,’ and she kept going,” Poynter said in his remarks to the grand re-opening crowd. “I wonder if she knew she was in Bourbon County.”
After the L&N stopped passenger service in 1968, the railroad gave the depot to the city, but kept the land. The adjacent railroad tracks remain active with freight trains. The depot was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and that same year a citizens committee was formed to “save” the depot. Poynter was then 2 years old.
“It took us 46 years,” he said, “but this depot was saved.”
Poynter, who works for distiller Brown-Forman in Louisville, worked with Paris and Bourbon County officials to convince CSX Corp., the L&N’s successor company, to sell his family the land for $30,000. The city then sold them the depot for $1 in return for restoration.
The Poynters and restaurant owner Dottie Spears invested more than $300,000 in the project, which used state and federal historic tax credits.The organization Preservation Kentucky
gave the project this year’s Linda Bruckheimer Excellence in Rural Preservation Award.
Fortunately, the depot’s old tin roof had not leaked, windows had been covered with plywood to keep out the weather and most of the old-growth lumber used to build the frame depot was still sound. Although 85 percent of the original woodwork was saved, David Puryear of Bourbon Millwork reproduced some missing or rotten pieces.
One new addition: a retro-style pedestal clock on the former train platform, made by Jarrod Randolph of Versailles. The Poynters plan new landscaping for a triangle-shaped park north of the depot so it can be used for outdoor events.
The Poynters and their contractors completed the project in 13 months. It was not their first historic preservation adventure. Two years ago, they renovated The Robneel, a three-story apartment and commercial building on Main Street that was built in 1908.
The Poynters have leased the depot to Spears. She soon plans to have the Trackside Restaurant and Bourbon Bar open Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (Reservations: 859-340-3010.) She expects to have a good business, both from locals and tourists. More than 10,000 people a year pass by the depot on their way to Claiborne Farm, where the 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat lived and is buried.
The depot had housed a few businesses after the railroad abandoned it, most notably Ann and Charles Ramey’s Iron Rail Restaurant, which closed more than a decade ago after 18 years in business.
Ann Ramey died in July, more than two years after her husband. Spears recently bought the Iron Rail’s china and silverware at Ramey’s estate sale and has put it back to use.
“I know they’re looking down on us and are very proud,” Poynter said. “This project was just meant to happen.”