By JOHN KIENER

Associate Editor

jkiener@heraldandtribune.com

The ribbon cutting for the dedication of the Chuckey Depot and W. C. Rowe Park took place in a 45-minute ceremony Monday on-site at 110 South Second Ave.  While the dedication had an official program, the gathering had the atmosphere of a family reunion.

More than 200 people gathered to hear speakers from the Babb family who donated the depot, while friends and relatives of W. C. Rowe remembered his contributions to Jonesborough and Washington County. Town Mayor Kelly Wolfe set the stage for the event when he said, “This depot served a very important role in the community it served.  W. C. Rowe personified the spirit of the community.”  He hailed the cooperative spirit that made both the park and depot a reality.

Town Operations Manager Craig Ford said the depot was his first major project.  The town staff with the assistance of inmates from the Northeast Correctional Complex in Mountain City and the Carter County Work Camp both took apart and, six years later, reassembled the depot. Ford told of two major obstacles in the process: the original inmates were not the ones that reassembled the depot.  In addition, the depot now standing in Jonesborough is on the opposite side of the tracks as it was situated in Chuckey.

Former County Mayor George Jaynes said of Rowe, “We were real close. His work for Jonesborough was unbelievable. There were not many issues (in county government) in which he was not involved.” Jaynes served as county executive or county mayor from 1986 until 2010 during which time Rowe was elected to four terms as a county commissioner beginning in 1990 and continuing with his re-election in 2002.

Present at the ceremony was W. C.’s daughter, Jill Garcia, who thanked the audience for remembering her father. “He loved the town so much,” she said. “He never met a stranger.”  Garcia brought with her a statement from her brother William C. Rowe, Jr., now a professor in Astana, Kazakhstan.  Garcia drove to the ceremony from St. Augustine, Florida where the city experienced flooding from recent hurricanes.  In his statement, William wrote, “My father loved to talk to anyone about anything for any length of time. He knew most of the people in Washington County. We, all of you who were involved (with the park), thank-you”

Elaine Rowe said “I cannot express our appreciation enough.  This would have been the one time in his life that he was silent.”  She told of the couple’s courtship, and then told the audience, “This is beautiful.  You have revived the memories of a loving man.”

A portion of the program distributed at the Ribbon Cutting talked about the future of the park.  The text read, “With increased use of W.C. Rowe Park, including the walkway and visitors at Chuckey Depot, we anticipate the need for public restrooms, outdoor seating, and additional storage space for museum artifacts. The property to the west of the Depot is a potential location for expanding the park in order to meet these needs.”

Contributions made by the Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society and Museum were outlined by Jimmy Rhein, chairman of the Chuckey Depot Committee and a member of the group. He said, “What a day for Jonesborough. What a day for the region.”  Rhein pointed to the X450 caboose on the premises that was restored by members of the WVRHSM.  In a tribute to W. C. Rowe, he talked about how he had served with him on the Town’s Planning Commission before Rowe was elected a county commissioner.

A compelling and historical presentation was given by Travis McIntosh, a member of the Depot’s donor family.  Currently serving as a Lt. Colonel in the United States Army, the West Point graduate recounted working at the depot while a youngster.  The depot, which was in the family for 70 years, was used as a storage place for fertilizer and other materials sold at the family’s hardware store nearby.

“Dinner in the Diner” in the 1980s was part of the family’s efforts to keep the depot in repair before being told it must be removed from the railroad right-of-way to make room for double tracking by the Norfolk Southern Railroad. Lifting 50 pound bags of fertilizer at the site during his youth, McIntosh also learned that blacks were separated from whites in society.  He said he came to realize that the separation of the races was wrong.

“It feels great to be in East Tennessee,” said McIntosh, who pilots a Blackhawk helicopter in the Army. He mentioned that he graduated from David Crockett High School and said growing up in this area he enjoyed “a culture of kindness and patriotism.” He said to the crowd, “Thank-you.  You all have made a dream become a reality.”

Bill Babb, another relative, remembered driving the fertilizer truck at the depot. A graduate of East Tennessee State University, he said “I would never have dreamed that the depot would look like this today.”

A number of depot donor family members were present at the ceremony and they were acknowledged in the Ribbon-Cutting Program.  The group members said that they were pleased that the depot still carries the “Chuckey” station name.

President Mike Tilley said the Watauga Valley Historical Railroad Society would maintain the following schedule on opening the depot during Jonesborough Days: on Thursday, Friday and Saturday – noon until 7 p.m. and on Sunday noon until 5 p.m.  The regular schedule of volunteer assistance by the group will by on Wednesday through Saturday from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.