Porterdale Mill on the Yellow River
NAMED for: Oliver S. Porter, Mill Owner

 

 

Mystery of train depot ownership holds up Porterdale’s purchase of dilapidated structure

By JAY JONES
Staff Reporter
jay.jones@newtoncitizen.com

Porterdale city officials have big plans for the historic train depot on Hemlock Street, but their plans have hit a snag. Before they can purchase it and renovate it, they must first find out who owns it. –Photo by Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith

 PORTERDALE — Only one thing is keeping city officials from purchasing and restoring the historic train depot on Hemlock Street – the rightful owners.
The city asked local attorney Errol Nichols to research property records at the Newton County Courthouse to determine who owns the dilapidated structure. Nothing was turned up after going back 50 years, so Nichols has referred it back to the city, according to Porterdale City Manager Tom Fox.
“The city wants to acquire it, restore it because of its historical value and make it available to the public,” Fox said. “The problem we keep running into is that there’s not a clear ownership of it.”
Fox suspects the owner is either Norfolk-Southern Railroad, The Bibb Company or Dan River Inc., but like the old building itself, property records have quietly crumbled over time.
Built between 1890 and 1910, the building sits near the old city jail, just behind the closed Lil’ Henry’s convenience store. One can see the old bay window where the loading dock once was. Inside, the flooring is gone, but the floor joists show the tongue-and-groove method used in its construction.
Though ownership is in doubt, part of the building has been used by Porterdale Public Works for years to store equipment and park trucks. On one side of the building, a faded “Porterdale” sign is barely visible.
A proponent for saving the depot, Councilwoman Rebecca Roseberry said the building could be a great asset for Porterdale as a community meeting area and polling place. Another possibility for the old depot is to incorporate it with a proposed multi-purpose trail along the Yellow River that could connect the county’s Turner Lake Recreation Complex with Porterdale. The depot also sits adjacent to 28 acres of riverfront property Porterdale purchased last year from Dan River Inc. for a planned city park.
Roseberry said regardless of what the final plans are for the depot, the structure is deteriorating and the city will need to act soon to acquire the depot to save it.
“We better do something soon, or else there won’t be anything left to save,” Roseberry said.
The matter has now been turned over to Porterdale City Attorney Timothy Chambers to see what court procedures are available to resolve the ownership issue.

City seeks grant for renovations

PORTERDALE — City officials will seek a state grant to renovate the old Porterdale train depot and construct a portion of a proposed multi-purpose trail that would connect Porterdale with the Turner Lake Recreation Complex.
In a called session Monday, the Porterdale City Council voted unanimously to move forward on a Transportation Enhancement Program grant through the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). The specially called council meeting was necessary because the deadline for the grant application is Monday.
The council agreed to hire The Center for Facilitating Community Preservation and Planning in Covington to prepare the grant application at a cost of $10,000. Local governments can seek up to $1 million in grant money, but are obligated to pay 20 percent of the total grant received with the GDOT paying the rest, according to Porterdale City Manager Tom Fox.
Fox called that 20 percent the crux of the argument for the council and asked whether they would be willing to pay up to $200,000 if the grant is awarded to Porterdale. The original grant proposal was just to build a portion of the proposed trail, but the council included the train depot in their vote.
“Covington and Newton County are trying to make it a reality,” Fox said. “If we can get this grant, it would benefit everyone, Newton County, Covington and Porterdale.”
The amount to be sought would be determined before the grant application is completed. Fox told the council the trail is estimated to cost $350,000 per mile, considering right of way purchases, materials and construction cost. Porterdale applied for the same grant in 2000 for sidewalk improvements and renovation of the train depot. At that time, estimates for saving the turn-of-the-century depot were around $385,000, not including cost to purchase the property, Fox said.
The proposed trail is coordinated by a citizens’ group, Multi-Use Trail Advocates for a New Trail System (MUTANTS) and divided into three phases. Newton County has applied for grant money to fund the first and second phases going from Turner Lake down to Newton High School. Fox presented the third phase of 2.5 miles for Porterdale to fund that runs from Newton High to the Yellow River bridge at Hemlock and North Broad streets.
Councilman Bobby Hamby questioned why Porterdale would be responsible for building a trail outside of city limits, including a foot bridge over the Yellow River. Porterdale Mayor Paul Oeland said he had concerns over responsibilities Porterdale would have or want to have over the trail in unincorporated Newton County, leading up to Newton High.
“It makes no sense for us to build a trail in the county,” Oeland said.
In the end, the council agreed to move forward with the grant but directed Fox to focus the grant application only for the stretch of the trail within Porterdale city limits.
The GDOT will announce the grant recipients in March 2004. Governments will then have two years to begin the projects. Under GDOT grant guidelines, the city cannot begin negotiating for purchase of the train depot until after it has been awarded the grant, Fox said.