GARNER — Long ago, the train depot downtown served as a hub for Garner, a tiny stop along the rail line just outside Raleigh.
But over the years, as the town's growth has shifted away from the tracks to the U.S. 70 corridor, the depot has been nearly forgotten. Now a nonprofit group that's trying to breathe life back into downtown is asking people to cast their vote online in a national contest that will award money to projects that aim to preserve history.
The depot is one of 100 projects in the "This Place Matters" contest, put on by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The project that wins the most votes will get $25,000. Second place will receive $10,000, and third place will get $5,000.
In Garner, the money would help relocate the depot, said John Hodges, director of the Garner Revitalization Association, which is leading the effort to win the money.
The group wants to move the depot away from the train tracks to a safer, more accessible spot across Garner Road, next to the senior center. The building, which has a freight room big enough for 40 or 50 people, could host birthday parties and other events.
The depot could also become a place to display photos and artifacts from the town's history, he said.
And Hodges said the caboose that is near the depot also could be moved and could serve as a play space for children or as a concession stand.
"That's a great way to pull a younger generation in to experience history," Hodges said.
Harold Garner has been trying for 35 years to turn the depot into a history museum. Over the years, he said, he has helped raise about $75,000.
Most of that money was spent moving and renovating the depot. Decades ago, the building was moved from the railroad tracks to a spot near the downtown water tower. Then in 1987, residents moved it to its original location. Since then, they have redone the depot inside and out.
But the museum never came to be; the money just wasn't there, Garner said.
Wherever the depot ends up, Garner said he hopes to fill the place with history. His research has turned up information about the town's original post office dating to 1878, he said. He has also found old photographs.
Meanwhile, Hodge hopes the people of Garner will support their town just as they did this spring when Garner's own 17-year-old Scotty McCreery was voted winner of this year's "American Idol" competition.
"If I can just get Scotty to tweet about this, I'd be OK," Hodges said.
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