Combined Efforts of Many Contribute to Proud Opening of the Amherst Visitor Center

by Sharon Wright & Dan Curran

After more than 20 years of planning and restoration, and not without trials and tribulations, the Amherst train depot has opened as a Visitor Center with offices for the Amherst County Economic Development Authority and the Amherst County Chamber of Commerce.

The restored depot sits in clear view of both US 29 and US 60, its bright yellow exterior a draw to travelers. The visitor center offers information about places and events in the county that interest tourists. It also houses historical information about the county as well as the depot itself.

The Amherst County Visitor Center

The original Amherst Train Depot was built by Southern Railway in 1913 for passenger service. In the 1920s, freight service was added to the line, and the station was remodeled to add a freight room. By the 1940s, it hosted three passenger trains per day, but these were discontinued in the 1960s, and freight service ended in the 1970s. The building stood empty.

The idea for the project was originally introduced in 1995 when the depot still stood at its original site on Depot Street. The depot then was owned by local businessman Marshall Mays, who donated the building to the Amherst County Chamber of Commerce. The deed for the future site, at Rts. 60 and 29, was given to the local non-profit Friends of the Historic Amherst Train Station.

Headed by Marlene Fitzgerald (formerly Marlene Mays, daughter of Marshall Mays), along with Lynn Cunningham and E. O. Kinnier, The Friends of the Historic Amherst Train Station worked with the county to contract with architectural firm Dalgliesh, Eichman, Gilpin & Paxton. The renovation was completed in stages as federal grants were administered through the Virginia Department of Transportation. In time, the land and building were turned over to Amherst County.

An early photo of the Amherst Depot
(Courtesy of Fred Loving).

The Friends of the Historic Amherst Train Station is no longer active, but the local organization was an important early advocate for the Depot. The Friends applied for and received several grants, all done through Amherst County acting as the fiscal agent. The grants were available through a federally funded program for travel enhancement and had to work through a local government. The Friends were not involved in the final grants for the completion of the visitor’s center as Amherst County became fully involved.

The building was relocated to its current site in 2008 and renovated with federal grant money administered through the Virginia Department of Transportation after VDOT presented plans to straighten Depot Street.

At times the entire project was delayed due to concerns about financial responsibility and stipulations of grant and loan providers, but the enthusiasm for the future visitor’s center didn’t wane.

County officials consulted with local historians and viewed historical pictures in order to maintain the authentic qualities of the depot. In the second stage of the project, exterior renovations included replacing the roof and siding, reusing as much of the original materials as possible. Parking, a concrete patio, and new windows and doors were added. An old railroad signal that was donated by former Amherst County Chamber President Bill Callahan stands outside the depot.

From left- Patrick Dreher, ACCC Board President; Dean Rodgers, Amherst County Administrator; Claudia Tucker, Board of Supervisors Chairwoman; Amanda Ramsey, former ACCC Board President and current Vice-President; David Proffitt, Asst. County Administrator; Vanessa Angus, Director of ACCC and Tourism; Marlene (Mays) Fitzgerald, former President of The Friends of the Amherst Railroad Station; Lynn Cunningham, former officer with the Friends of the Amherst Railroad Station; E.O. Kinnier, former officer with the Friends of the Amherst Railroad Station; Gary Taylor (atop railroad cart) former ACCC Board President; Jeremy Bryant, Planning Director; Bill Callahan, former ACCC Board President; Rodney Taylor, former Amherst County administrator; Charlie Copp, former ACCC Board President; Garett Rouzer, Dalgliesh Gilpin Paxton Architects.
(Credit due but not present for photo) Chad Mooney and Martha Tucker.

The concept of repurposing old train depots has resulted in updated buildings for a variety of purposes in Virginia in Altavista, Appomattox,  Dublin, Farmville, Pulaski, and Purcellville. While the former Amherst train depot will house offices, its most valuable service will be its status as a Visitor Center.

In the Amherst region, the Nelson County Visitor Center has operated since the early 1990s, serving some 25,000 visitors each year. This was the first state certified rural center, and its director, Maureen Kelley, also assisted with the establishment of the Amherst site. The Nelson center is open seven days a week with only three holidays off during the year and offers travel information and even space for recreational vehicles to park overnight. It maintains a business directory and has all tourism brochures of area businesses. Weekly events are posted on their website and sent out to all area businesses so that locals can refer tourists to one another and promote further tourist activity.

“Our visitor centers are critical components of destination marketing, serving as gateways and ‘first-stop’ destinations while also providing real-time information to travelers,” said Rita McClenny, President and CEO of Virginia Tourism Corporation. “A recent study showed that 11% of travel parties that stopped at visitor centers stayed nearly three additional nights in that destination. And with two-thirds of the travelers from our target markets indicating that they used visitor information centers during their travels, that translates to a real revenue generating opportunity for our destinations across the Commonwealth. Virginia’s visitor centers are an absolutely imperative tool in reaching travelers, boosting revenue, and connecting our communities in important and authentic ways.”

Some of the exhibits within the new visitor center.

The visitor centers at Lexington and Buena Vista in Rockbridge County, along with the information center at Natural Bridge, share about 50,000 tourist visits per year. They offer information about area attractions, travel directions, and parking. According to Rockbridge official Jeanne Clark, oftentimes people visit the area for one particular purpose, such as traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway or visiting Natural Bridge, and are unfamiliar with the other attractions in the area. Even local residents are sometimes unaware of new and expanding businesses, so the center helps visitors take advantage of everything the area has to offer.

The new Amherst Visitor Center hopes to capitalize on the same situations and draw many more tourists to the area. Its easy accessibility from both US 29 and US 60 will appeal to travelers who might otherwise consider the county as a place to drive through as they aim elsewhere. Hopefully, now they can learn about Amherst County as a tourist destination in its own right.

“The grand opening of the Train Depot represents the beginning of a whole new era for Amherst County,” Amherst County Administrator Dean Rodgers said recently. “We are reaching out to the region and the state to let people know we are a tourist destination, a growing business destination and ultimately, the place where people will want to educate and raise their children.”

Rodgers went on to say that “Amherst is entering a renaissance, and it’s being led off by this new visitor’s center.  It has been a long road to get the funding to move the old depot structure, renovate it, buy land for it to sit on, and then work through the endless government approvals needed to use the funds.  For the county, this has all been led by David Proffitt, the Deputy County Administrator and county purchasing officer.  David has been here from the beginning untangling the multiple grants and their requirements, the multiple government agencies and their requirements, the citizen and nonprofit groups and their requirements, and the designers and artisans.  Its boggling complexity makes it truly a wonder this project has been completed at all!  David has been ably assisted by our energetic Planning and Zoning Director, Jeremy Bryant. Jeremy has been David’s right hand in almost all the decisions along the way.  All good works boil down to proper planning and proper funding and these two individuals have made it happen for Amherst County.”

Part of the new conference room inside the visitor center.

Claudia Tucker, Chairwoman of the Amherst County Board of Supervisors, said the following recently:

“As the longest serving member of the Board of Supervisors, I am very pleased to have seen this project completed. It will serve as a wonderful resource to tourists coming to visit Amherst County but also to local groups who can use the space for meetings and gatherings. The train depot was important to commerce in its hay day and we look forward to its repurpose as a place to greet and educate our visitors.”

The Town of Amherst has supported the county’s efforts to relocate, restore and occupy the Amherst train station for many years.

According to Jack Hobbs, who was Town Manager of Amherst until recently, the location of the train station, at the intersection of the county’s two major highways is worthy of note. U.S. Rt. 29 goes from Baltimore, MD to Pensacola, FL; and U.S. Rt. 60 originally ran from the Atlantic Ocean at Virginia Beach, VA to the Pacific Ocean in Los Angeles, CA.

“We hope that the Amherst County Chamber of Commerce’s new Visitor Center will enhance the local effort to promote tourism by being a focal point and clearinghouse for the folks who visit our community and the businesses and attractions that serve them. The Town views this facility as an important resource and the Amherst County Chamber of Commerce as a valued ally in our efforts to promote Amherst,” Hobbs said.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with the county to establish a visitor center and our office in the newly renovated and beautifully transformed depot,” stated Vanessa Angus, Director of Amherst County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism.

“Amherst County’s scenic beauty, peaceful lifestyle, recreational opportunities, events and attractions will no longer be missed by passersby. The Amherst County Visitor Center will serve as a beacon to visitors and an introduction to all that Amherst County has to offer,” Angus said.

“I have enjoyed working alongside David Proffitt and Jeremy Bryant to complete the final stage of the depot’s transition as the county’s first official visitor center.  In addition to the new tourism brochure, a new tourism video and website will soon be launched showcasing the county’s greatest attributes.  Other projects on the horizon include achieving the status of a Virginia “certified” visitor center and creating Amherst’s own interpretation of the Love sign,” Angus said.

Second Stage | Amherst Fulfilling Its Vision

Second Stage | Amherst Fulfilling Its Vision

It’s been over two years (since the summer of 2015) that the non-profit Second Stage | Amherst opened in the former home of the Amherst Baptist congregation, in downtown Amherst, with the goal of becoming a place shared by the Amherst community for a variety of purposes.

Besides attracting artists and becoming a focal point for cultural activities that add to the Amherst area’s quality of life, it has served as a convenient and low-cost venue for meetings, classes and workshops, community forums and a farmers’ market that started five years ago under the huge oak tree.

Improvements to the building, which is leased from Amherst County, have included the installation of handicapped-accessible facilities, the repainting of  the beautiful pressed metal ceiling in the performance space, and the upgrading of the HVAC systems.

The 2nd Street Farmers Market completes its 5th year in Oct. 2017, under the huge oak tree. It runs on Thursday afternoons every year from April thru early October. Inside markets are often held during the winter and spring months.

 

 

Upcoming 2017 events include:

Friday, September 22
AGAR presents
Chris Magee and Friends

7:30 PM | Tickets $15

Saturday, September 30
Come to the Table, a Community Dinner, on grounds of SSA

5-9 PM | Tickets $10 (10 & under free)

Thursday, October 12
Agri + Culture Market
featuring music by Temple & Staton and a Community Seed Swap
3:30 – 6:30 | Free

Saturday, November 11
Opera on the James presents

​“The Bremen Town Musicians”
4 PM | Free (donations accepted!)

Saturday, November 18
Scottish folksinger and songwriter Jim Malcolm

7:30 PM | Tickets $15

Sunday, November 26
Singing in the Season:
a progressive holiday musical event with six Amherst churches
3 PM | Free

Saturday, December 9
Santa Paws Coming to Town!

Bring your furry friend to have photo taken with Santa. Shop the Winter Bazaar. 11 am. – 4 pm. Free

 

 

Here is a look of the organizations that are currently renting space at 2nd Stage.

Deb Walker is a retired Amherst County teacher turned artisan. Her Lavender Design Jewelry Studio 7 lives up to its name; the pleasant scent of lavender fills the hall and her studio. She has been making jewelry for about 11 years, since she made gifts of necklaces and earrings for the bridesmaids of her daughter’s wedding.

Walker eventually took some classes and now designs with stones, pearls and crystals. She says that every piece she makes is original and unique, although she has been asked to make similar items to some popular ones she previously created.

Her studio hours are the same as the Farmers Market; Thursdays (3:30-6:30), and by appointment. For more information, e-mail her at dlwalker1215@gmail.com or call (434) 922-7244.

 

 

Oil-painting artist Mary-Ellen Higgins displays her paintings in the same Studio 7 that Deb Walker has for her jewelry. Higgins has only been painting for six years, but she previously kept sketch books before then. Her husband eventually saw the sketches and her talent and encouraged her to take courses, which she did at Lynchburg’s Academy of Arts and The Art Box. She also shows at various local festivals. The Studio is open during the Farmers’ Market, April – October, from 3:30pm to 6:30 pm., and during the Santa Paws Market in December, most public events, and also by appointment.  For more information, call (434) 922-7244.   

 

 

 

Mindful Mountain Yoga teaches various aspects of Yoga which also relies on extensive medical experience. John Kortmulder, proprietor, is excited to offer the first (and only) yoga studio in Amherst County. The teachers include John (Yoga, breathing, meditation); Tim Griffin (Tai Chi and Qigong); Bonnie Black (Yoga) and Malcolm (African and Caribbean Percussion).

Mindful Mountain Yoga practices a personal yoga style, suitable for any ability level, encouraging beginners. Classes are taught with humor without being judgmental or competitive. Both individual and group classes are available during various days of the week. For more information, visit www.MindfulMountainYoga.com or call 914-589-0964. Like them on FB!

 

 

Specializing in seascapes and cityscapes in oil, the Ken Templeton Studio is another interesting place to visit. Having exhibited at the George Billis Gallery in New York City and other parts of the U.S., Templeton has won numerous awards.

“As a realist painter,” Templeton says, “I am attracted to the places where we live, work and play. A small town perhaps, maybe a rural outpost… Lately, vibrant cities have fascinated me. I use photographs as an outline or a stepping off point in my work. My photographs are rather amateurish or shot with an iPhone, which allows for more interpretation. I choose to work in small format as this expedites the process. At night, I sketch them out while relaxing at home. During the day, they come alive as I apply paint, working in two to three layers.” For more information, visit www.KennethTempleton.com or call (252) 202-6599.

Ken works at his studio most weekdays and is also available by appointment.

 

 

WORK  is a “jewel-box” gallery of fine art, where Craig Pleasants shows artists from around the world working in contemporary practices.  Pleasants is an artist and the former Artistic Director of VCCA. His own artwork has been exhibited at The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the North Carolina Museum of Art, The Alternative Museum in New York, and The Musee d’Art Contemporain in Marseille. WORK gallery is open on Thursdays from 3:30-5:30 during the Second Stage Farmer’s Market, or by appointment. For more information, please visit  www.craigpleasants.com, www.sculptorhouse.com. and www.workfineart.com, or call (434) 946-7547.

 

 

 

Studio 8 is an innovative arts classroom for learners of all ages. Owner and Director, Maryellen Barron, is licensed in Virginia and currently teaches Art to 9 -12th graders at Amherst High School. She holds a degree in Art Education and has 23 years of experience teaching art to people aged 2 through 82. Classes in Drawing, Painting, Sewing and Mixed Media are taught in 4 week sessions. Workshops are available for adults. For more information, visit www.studioeightamherst.com or call (419) 654-0615.

 

 

 

 

For a calendar of 2018 events at Second Stage | Amherst, visit www.SecondStageAmherst.org. Interested volunteers, donors or renters can also visit the website for more information or e-mail secondstageamherst@gmail.com.

 

News and Notes

News & Notes

New Kitchen Supply Store Opens in Amherst

Ladle & Blade, a marketplace for commercial-grade kitchen tools, opened its first showroom in downtown Amherst last July. The shop, located at 106 East Court St., is the first brick-and-mortar location for this retailer, which until then was operated solely online. Serial entrepreneur and Amherst resident Carl Jackson is the owner and manager. For more information, see page 27.

 

 

 

Hickey Electric Open in Madison Heights

Hickey Electric Heating and Air has relocated from Lynchburg to 4262 South Amherst Hwy., Suite 100, Madison Heights.

The full service electrical and HVAC contractor has been installing, repairing and servicing equipment in Lynchburg area homes and businesses for more than 30 years.

For details on available products, seasonal specials or to schedule services, see page 9.

 

 

4th Annual Shopaloosa Fest Held in Madison Heights

Jake and Sarah Ryan held their 4th anniversary music event aka My Guitar Shopaloosa Fest, Sunday August 20th, at their store My Guitar Shop located in the Town and Country Shopping Center in Madison Heights. They raffled two custom pinstriped Jackson guitars by local tattoo artist Jamie Krantz and all the proceeds went to the Amherst County Habitat For Humanity. My Guitar Shopalooza Fest is already planned for the same weekend in August 2018, the Sunday before the Lock’N Festival. It’s Free to the public and always features local bands, local vendors, food trucks, raffles, door prizes, a Loose Shoe beer garden and more!.

Centra Amherst Medical Center Open

The Centra Amherst Medical Center, located in the Ambriar Shopping Center, opened to patients in Dec. 2016. Primary care, imaging and physical therapy are some of the services available at the state-of-the-art facility.

 

New Hydro-Powered Brewery Coming to the Historic Amherst Mill

The historic Amherst Mill is on track to become the first hydro-powered brewery in the U.S. by summer 2018. The Amherst Milling Company has been an iconic business in the Town of Amherst for over 100 years and is being purchased by Waukeshaw Development, based in Petersburg, Virginia. Waukeshaw intends to preserve the Mill and the bucolic setting and uses the one-of-a-kind property as an outpost for its existing Trapezium Brewing Company. To be called Trapezium West, the Brewers intend to use local ingredients, capture wild yeast for its ales, and retool the historic water wheel for the production of electricity. The main level of the Mill will include a brew house and taproom, with the upper levels preserved for tours of the historic milling equipment. “The Mill will continue to be an amazing asset for Amherst County,” according to Calvin Kennon, EDA Chairman. “Once repurposed, its’ fun and unique personality will be just what the County needs and will become a must-see gathering place. This will bring people to Amherst County and benefit our tourism efforts.” For more information, visit www.waukeshaw.com. Courtesy of Economic Development Authority of Amherst County.

Amherst Business Expanding – Buys Land in the Amelon Commerce Center

Another Amherst business is expanding and has bought a site in the Amelon Commerce Center. David Wall, owner of Affordable Energy Concepts and Wall Construction, chose Amelon Commerce Center because of the affordable price and great location. He intends to build a 7,500 – 10,000 square foot building to house both businesses. The Economic Development Authority of Amherst County has been working with Wall for several months to facilitate their purchase and assist them in accessing local incentives. When asked why he purchased land in the Amelon Commerce Center, Wall explained “I needed to expand, and because of the good purchase price, it made it easier to grow.” For more information on Wall Construction and Affordable Energy Concepts, visit WallConstruction.biz or AffordableEnergyConcepts.com. Courtesy of Economic Development Authority of Amherst County.

 

Branding and Marketing Plan for Amherst County Unveiled

The unveiling of the Amherst County branding and marketing plan took place last June. Branding is the process of capturing the essence of a product -in this case, Amherst County and its’ communities unique story and character – and promoting it in a compelling way. The Brand will be used to market and promote Amherst County and its communities to new businesses, tourists, new residents, etc.

Over the last several months approximately 400 community members and leaders were engaged through interviews, focus groups, social media, and an online survey, to gather community thoughts on the values and character that make Amherst County a special place and to tell Amherst’s unique story.  Courtesy of Economic Development Authority of Amherst County.

 

Integrated Technology Group Moves to Amherst County

A technology company moved to Amherst County last July, bringing 22 full-time, high-wage jobs.  Integrated Technology Group (ITG), a provider of commercial technology solutions to the Central and Southwestern Virginia regions, is moving into a building owned by the Economic Development Authority of Amherst County (EDA) in the Amelon Commerce Center. ITG is a growing company that is looking to expand to new markets and doubles their employee base over the next 5 years. “Gaining a tech company like ITG is a great win for Amherst County. The partnership between the EDA and ITG will provide jobs and economic growth for Amherst for years to come,” said Calvin Kennon, EDA Chairman. Courtesy of Economic Development Authority of Amherst County.

 

Expanded Services at Riveredge Park

A playground recently was added to the landscape of Riveredge Park, giving Amherst County residents a new family attraction.

Sara Lu Christian, director of Amherst County Recreation and Parks, said the playground has been a collaborative effort thought about for “quite some time.”

“It’s more to attract the community and there’s not a playground in the area,” Christian said.

Christian said since the playground was installed the department has received several phone calls saying residents are “really thrilled and excited” about the addition to the Madison Heights park.

The playground, designed for a variety of ages, is large enough to accommodate a lot of children and is handicap accessible, Christian said.

Riveredge Park now offers the James River Adventures concession, which offers rental opportunities for exploring and enjoying the scenic James River. Canoe and kayak rentals (and optional shuttle service) are offered to people of all skill levels. For more information, call  (434) 847-1090 or e-mail  rcampbell@jrava.org.

 

Amherst County Administration Building Addition

The Amherst County Administration building, which is home to the County Administrative offices, School Administration, Health Department and Social Services, has taken on a new addition.

The new addition includes a new Public Meeting Room, several meeting and conference rooms, and the expansion of offices in the lower level to accommodate the growth in staff in the Department of Social Services. The new Public Meeting Room is where all of the Board of Supervisors, School Board and Service Authority meetings will be held.

The new Public Meeting Room features updated technology such as: two projector screens that are full HD, 1 65in 4k ultra HD Smart TV, an audio rack and 2 digital recorders. One digital recorder is for the school board and the other is for the board of supervisors. The two projectors are for the audience and the TV is for the board.

The new addition also includes four conference rooms upstairs that are all available for the public. The public Meeting Room seats 150, the Committee Room seats 10, the Small Meeting Room seats 6 and the Board Room seats 16.

If you would like to book any of these rooms or need more information please call Layney Sandifer at (434 )946-9400.

 

 

If you know of something new in Amherst County, please e-mail Dan@AllAmericanPub.net.