December 12, 2013

Waiting on a train

Charles Oliver

— Built 64 years ago, the Crescent City has quite a story to tell. The luxury rail car served as the personal car of the president of the Southern Railroad and ran the New York-to-New Orleans line for more than 20 years.

Now, thanks to $150,000 in private grant money and city funds, Friends of the Crescent City plan to return the car to its former glory and make it a tourist attraction here in Dalton. Volunteers have already scraped the rust off the undercarriage and painted it.

“The exterior is coming along well. It’s the interior now that we need to work on,” said Kathryn Sellers of Friends of the Crescent City.

That interior work will require skilled labor and can’t be done by volunteers. Sellers said the estimated cost for all the work is $225,000. But the group recently got a couple of big donations that will go a long way to funding the work. The Mashburn Foundation gave it $75,000, and the Dalton City Council approved another $75,000 to match that.

“We are going to go forward and do as much as we can. Meanwhile, we’ll be looking for other funding or more grants to complete the work,” Sellers said.

The first thing that needs to be done is to fix all the leaks in the car. After that, Sellers said they’ll do as much as their funding will take care of.

“We are going to work first on the infrastructure. We have water to the car, but we don’t have power. We need to redo all the wiring in the car because it is so old, and we need to install heat and air. The floor needs to be replaced,” she said.

The car, which was donated to the city by Jonathan Caylor and Mark Hannah, now stands beside the old freight depot on Morris Street. Sellers said the ultimate goal is to develop the car into a tourist attraction and place where meetings and parties can be held.

“There’s already an interest, and once the repairs are complete that interest will grow,” she said. “We have become sort of a train mecca, with the two rail lines coming through town, the restored freight depot and the Dalton Depot restaurant. And Tunnel Hill has the tunnel, and they hope to renovate their depot, which is also historic. All of that together makes us interesting to people interested in trains. A refurbished Crescent City will just add to that.”

Dalton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) Executive Director Brett Huske said the railroad market is a growing part of the area’s tourism business.

“Since we started to monitor the number of train watchers who come to the freight depot, we’ve seen the numbers grow every month,” he said.

Huske said the depot had 600 visitors and 103 rail fans in September and 550 visitors and 129 rail fans in October, the latest month for which numbers are complete. He said those numbers only include those who come to the depot during weekday business hours and don’t include train watchers who come on the weekends.

Huske said the CVB is looking for ways to expand the area’s train tourism.

“One idea is to cross market Tunnel Hill and Prater’s Mill,” he said. “They both have a $5 admission fee, so we are thinking maybe you can buy one $7 ticket that will get you into both sites. We could do something similar with the train car and Tunnel Hill. You could buy one ticket and get to see the train car, the tunnel and the Tunnel Hill Depot when that opens up.”