A train depot dating back to the early 1900s that once served the Chuckey community will soon make its new home near downtown Jonesborough.
After months of talks with the owners of the property and the Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society, the town of Jonesborough recently purchased the property for $1 in hopes of preserving a piece of the region’s vast railroad history.
“We didn’t want to see it destroyed and we wanted one in Jonesborough for the museum coming online, so that’s the main reason we went after it,” president of the Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society and Museum Mike Tilley said.
After the property was purchased earlier this month, work began Monday to carefully dismantle the building so it can be reassembled at a location near the downtown area, according to town of Jonesborough operations manager Craig Ford.
“It’s not a typical demolition. We’re going in and marking each of the boards where they were at, what room it was in. We’re taking the trim pieces out and then the interior walls out, so it’s a process. For us to reassemble the building, we’re having to mark where they were as they come out,” Ford said.
Ford said he expects the dismantling process to take about two months using inmate labor the town secured from the state. The details surrounding the final location of the depot are still being discussed.
Once it’s rebuilt, Ford said there will be some restoration to the property, which has taken some beating from the elements over the years.
Ford didn’t have an estimated cost of the project, but he said it would be minimal since they are using town equipment and Department of Correction labor.
The “Chuckey Depot,” as it’s referred to in the sales agreement, was originally built in the early 1900s and was a major stopping point when people traveled mostly by passenger trains, according to Tilley.
The depot was primarily used by the Southern Railway, which later became Norfolk Southern. Tilley said a passenger service ran through the depot until the 1950s, at which point it was sold to the family of Joe D. Johnson.
The depot was then used as a hardware storage facility for a hardware store located across the street. The storage facility was operated by Joe D. Johnson and his father, Hugh Johnson, according to Linda Babb, who owned the property along with her brother David Johnson.
The depot was in the Johnson family for more than 50 years before Babb and her brother sold the property to the town of Jonesborough.
Babb said the lease became too expensive, so she and her family began searching for other ways to save a piece of Chuckey’s history.
“That was part of Chuckey when Chuckey was a thriving town and everybody wants to see it stay but nobody could come through with how to do it,” Babb said.
That’s when the railroad society got involved and approached the town of Jonesborough in hopes of saving the depot, which Babb said was the best solution in preserving the historic landmark.
After the deterioration of passenger trains in the 1960s, Tilley said many of the area depots were demolished. He believes the “Chuckey Depot” is an important asset to the community.
“Our goal is to restore it like it was and turn it into a railroad museum,” he said.
Knowing that her family’s property is in good hands comforts Babb after not knowing if the depot would continue standing.
“I’m sure my parents would be totally thrilled, cause they were big railroad people, too,” she said. “It’s sort of like the circle is complete, cause you wonder what’s going to happen to your heritage, so our children will be able to see the depot and know that it was there.”