Hartwell Railroad Leases Property for Railroad St. Revitalization

Torch President Mary Gidley and Hartwell RR President Benny Ray Anderson Sr sign lease agreement

Torch President Mary Gidley and Hartwell RR President Benny Ray Anderson Sr sign lease agreement

Three years of planning and diligent work are paying off for a Hartwell group dedicated to bringing an abandoned street back to life.

This week, the non-profit group TORCH announced it has signed a lease with the Hartwell Railroad to begin renovating Railroad St.

Members of TORCH recently signed the 99-year lease agreement with Hartwell Railroad owner Benny Ray Anderson Sr.  TORCH president Mary Gidley said the lease means her group can begin putting the renovation plans in motion.

“It means we’re going to put in the wellness park and the farmer’s market,” she said. “We also have plans to restore the old (train) turntable. We’re excited. We’re finally getting going.”

In October 2012, the group first presented their plans and goals for the abandoned Railroad St to the City Council of Hartwell and the Hart County Board of Commissioners.

Railroad St. is located behind historic Depot St. in the heart of downtown Hartwell.

The street is lined with long abandoned buildings, train tracks and old freight cars, as well as an old silo pad where the engine could be turned around.

TORCH’s idea is to turn Railroad St. into a venue for citizens and tourists complete with a wellness and children’s park, restaurants, walking trails, the farmers’ market, and community center.

With the support of both the City and County, TORCH members set about to secure funding and also obtain lease agreements from property owners.

Gidley said most of the funding is now in place, including a grant approved by the State.

“There is some funding already in place. And we have a grant that has been approved by the Governor, which has been sent on to the federal level to be approved,” Gidley said. “Then we’re going to start our fund raising. We’ve already been promised four years of a private donation. We’ve already had a lot of people telling us that if we get this going they will give us in-kind donations.”

Gidley said they hope to begin working on the street by late June or early July.  She said the first project they tackle will be the farmers’ market.

“It’s the farmers’ market market place, which will be at the train depot,” she said. “We will have refrigeration there so if they want to leave items there to sell, we’ll have someone there, not just on farmers’ market days.”

Gidley said she’s not sure how long it will take to complete the farmers’ market, but she said they hope to have it ready by the next growing season.