Thursday, November 13, 2014

FEATURE STORY >> Rebirth of Jacksonville's heart

Leader staff writer

Those spearheading the movement to establish a Jacksonville historical district along First Street may have found the city’s original train depot, and they are hoping the owner will donate it.

Mayor Gary Fletcher said he would meet the owner and view the building, which Alderman Barbara Mashburn has heard is being used as a hay barn. She also believes the depot will be in good shape.

Mashburn is the driving force behind the project.

She called local artist Roberta McGrath her right hand. McGrath has sketched designs for the proposed district.

The district also has a 15-member board of directors involved in the planning process.

About the possibility of receiving the train depot, Mashburn said, “I feel great” because that would qualify the city to receive grants, including a Union Pacific grant, for the district that would “be enough to get renovations started.”

In other good news for the project, the alderman said she had learned that where the city would like to place the depot is not in Union Pacific’s right-of-way.

The city owns Short Street, and the depot would be placed there, near its original location. The site is ideal because the ground does not need to be prepared for a building to be placed there, Mashburn said.

Also, Brandon Morris with Union Pacific recently spoke with Mashburn and McGrath to voice the company’s support for the project.

“He was really upbeat. He was interested in what we are doing. He has no problem working with Jacksonville” to turn the depot into a museum and possibly a venue that can be rented for events, Mashburn said.

McGrath added that Union Pacific recently built and paid for a fence to increase safety by keeping people from crossing the tracks on foot and being struck by a train.

The fence’s design, she explained, compliments her drawings of what the historical district will look like. “I thought that was a wonderful gesture on their part,” McGrath said.

Plans to establish the district were first announced in June during the Jacksonville Historical Society’s first meeting at city hall.

Mashburn said, since then, two representatives with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program have walked through the proposed district with her and the mayor.

They said all but two out of 10 buildings on First Street qualify for the National Register of Historic Places and could be staples of the historical district.

The buildings have been nominated for the Register, and the city will know in January whether they were added to it.

The nominees are:

• Wage Center at 114 S. First St., which was Western Auto Store.

• City Storage at 109 W. Main St., which was the First Jacksonville Bank and the water company.

• Legion for Bingo at 102, 106 and 108 N. First St., which was City Café in the 1940s and ‘50s.

• Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu at 112 N. First St., which was a Harpole Bros. and Wilson Bros. store.

• Excel Realty Co. at 116 N. First St., which was the post office in the ‘40s and the electric company in the ‘70s.

• The empty 118 N. First St., which was Blodgett’s Drugstore and Nixon Barber Shop in the ‘40s and an upholstery shop in the ‘80s or ‘90s. The barbershop was owned by postal worker W.W. Nixon.

• Jim’s Pawn at 120 N. First St., which was the Henry Bros., Garvins, Pace and Carlisle stores.

• The tire shop at 200 N. First St., which was Lions service station.

Also to be included with them in the first set of historical district buildings will be McGrath’s art studio at 122 S. First St., originally a pool hall, and her salon at 118 S. First St., which was Mule Taylor’s Restaurant.

Mashburn added that the first city jail on Graham Road is already on the Register because someone nominated it in 2010 and she completed the paperwork this year, as the nominator had not finished it.

The buildings being listed on the Register could mean grants for owners to use on maintaining those landmarks, Mashburn said.

Being on the Register could also mean a 20 percent investment tax credit for rehabbing certain structures and receiving the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program’s technical advice about restoration, adaptive reuse and renovation, The Leader reported previously.

“Everybody would be able to enjoy them,” Mashburn noted. “This is part of Jacksonville’s history.”

Buildings that are in a two-block radius but not on First Street would be better added to the district one at a time, she continued.

The buildings proposed are:

• Angel’s Place at 100 S. First St., which was a doctor’s office and the Care Channel.

• The tax preparer at 210 N. First St., which was Southern Café, a taxi business and a furniture store.

• Suzy Q’s Flea Market at 116 W. Hickory St., which was the post office, a newspaper office and the Salvation Army.

• The empty 113 N. Second St., which was the home of Callie Harpole.

• The barbershop at 109 N. Second St., which was the telephone company and a radio station.

• Storage Peacock Rentals at 113 W. Main St., which was Harpoles Confectionary and Bus Station.

• The community development office at 109 S. Second St., which was the first police and courts building.

• The rental at 114 Mulberry St., which was the city’s first switchboard.

The alderman explained that the historical district would increase property values and serve as a tourist attraction.

Also, Mashburn added, she is asking residents to provide old photos that could be displayed at the train depot if it is donated to the city.

About the district, McGrath said, “It’s starting to come together pretty well…There is a lot of enthusiasm for it. People are jumping on board.”

She noted that Jacksonville exploded outward from the train tracks as a town along the railroad route when it was founded and noted that establishing the district could also lead to growth.

“It’s almost a repeat of history, which I think is a great thing,” McGrath said. The district could also include a welcome arch near the bridge over the railroad tracks, one of three total in the society’s plans, The Leader reported previously.