Depot may become key stop again

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 12, 2004

Many in the community hope that a key part of Ironton's past can also become an integral part of the city's future.

The restoration of the Depot building on Bobby Bare Boulevard has been an ongoing process. Exterior and roof repairs were completed earlier this year. City employees spent part of Thursday afternoon boarding up windows, as was recommended by a risk analyst through the state.

Mayor John Elam is one of many who believe that the building could once again play a vital role in the city's downtown. At least two interested parties have looked at the business as potential restaurant sites, but nothing has been finalized.

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"It is an historic part of downtown Ironton. … In our strategic goals of downtown revitalization, the Depot would play an important part of that," Elam said. "We would look for the Depot to play an important role in Ironton's future, just as it has in the past."

The city owns the building and leases it to the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation.

It was most recently previously the Italian eatery Manzetti's Restaurant but has been closed for several years.

"We have some interesting plans for the Depot," said Dr. Bill Dingus, executive director of the LEDC and the county's chamber, said Wednesday. "It has not been forgotten, believe me."

Soon, the building will celebrate 100 years.

The Depot building was built in 1907 for the Norfolk and Western Railroad company, which has now become the Norfolk Southern corporation. The company operated the depot as its passenger and freight terminal until 1969.

It has had some rather famous guests as well.

U.S. Presidents William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt stopped in Ironton in 1912, Woodrow Wilson in 1918, Harry S. Truman in 1948 and Dwight D. Eisenhower visited in 1952, according to local lore.

The railroad company stopped all passenger trains and had very little use for the building after about 1965. In 1973, Norfolk and Western sold the depot to the City of Ironton for the generous price of $1.

Six years later, the building became one of only 11 structures in Lawrence County listed on the National Register of Historic Places, according to the Ohio Historic Preservation Office.

As far as Joe Unger is concerned, the Depot has always been an important part of the city. Since Joe's father started the business in 1946,

Unger's Shoe Store has operated right around the corner from the building, so Joe knows first hand what a rejuvenated Depot could mean to Ironton.

"To have it restored, No. 1, it would be a tourist attraction. Number 2, it would bring additional shoppers to our city. Number 3, it would salvage a part of our heritage. And No. 4, it could spark a Renaissance of downtown Ironton," Unger said. "… It would be nothing but good news for our city."