Tracking down a tenant for train station not easy

July 24, 1994|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

SHARPSBURG -- Nearly a century ago, a timber-frame train station was built here on the right side of the tracks. Today, the building -- with ties to the Civil War -- is on the wrong side of the tracks.

Antietam Station's location at the western edge of town, and the fact that it's situated on a small lot -- 0.3-acre -- have made it a hard sell for Washington County officials.

They're looking for a temporary tenant -- maybe five to 20 years -- until the county can make better use of the building and its association with the nearby Antietam National Battlefield, the site of the bloodiest day of the Civil War.

Tourism officials are not interested because most visitors come from interstate highways to the north. Far fewer visitors use Route 34 over the Potomac River from Shepherdstown, W.Va.

The National Park Service, the state Department of Natural Resources and the Washington County Sheriff's Department also have been approached about using the building, but declined.

Retail use is unlikely because the small lot would not allow room for parking or expansion. Residential use has been ruled out because rent proceeds would not cover the cost of renovations.

"There's that one perfect fit out there that we don't know about," said Stephen Goodrich, a Washington County planner.

County officials bought the station two years ago for $25,000 after local residents expressed outrage about Norfolk Southern Railroad's plans to demolish the building. The station is structurally sound, but will require renovations costing as much as $45,000.

Antietam Station was built in 1911 to replace a smaller station, constructed in the 1880s and later destroyed by fire. Both the original and its replacement were built by the Shenandoah Valley Railroad -- which became part of the Norfolk & Western system -- to serve Confederate and Union soldiers returning for Memorial Day and other events.

These veterans returned by the hundreds between the 1880s and 1930s to commemorate events linked to the Battle of Antietam. Railroads ran excursions to Sharpsburg from Philadelphia, New York and other East Coast cities.

One remaining possibility is to lease the building to small nonprofit groups -- an option being explored.

"Whatever happens at this point, we're pleased we've been able to save the building," said Linda W. Irvin-Craig, a Washington County commissioner. "We'll find somebody to use it."

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