New Lease Could Be The Ticket Groups With A Vision For Kennett Square's Rail Station Made A 15-year Deal With Septa.

Posted: July 30, 2000

KENNETT SQUARE — Until the 1940s, the rustic train station along tree-lined South Broad Street served as a community hive, with excited travelers buzzing through 19th-century doors and waiting on historic platforms.

For more than 50 years, neighbors in the heart of Kennett Square's historic district have been watching the station transform. What was once a gateway to the world became a less-welcoming, freight-only station and, finally, an abandoned building with debris rusting in the yard.

But now, if all goes well, neighbors can look forward to a change. A group of Chester County preservationists and other civic groups have joined to renovate and occupy the station, a move they say will make the building an anchor in the community, drawing tourists and history buffs while paying homage to Kennett Square's railroad history.

"I think our long-range dream is to have a solid team of volunteers and residents who want to get involved," said Sally Warren, a board member with the Kennett Square Historical Commission. "We hope we can excite the whole community."

The commission, along with the Kennett High Alumni Association and the West Chester Heritage Railroad Association, has leased the station from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority for $1 a year for 15 years.

"We do hope the commission is still integrally involved," Warren said, "but we hope it is a self-running tourist attraction and education resource for everyone in the whole community."

Kennett Square Borough Manager David S. Teel, who negotiated the lease with SEPTA, said he hoped the station would one day be a museum and a community center.

"I think it is going to be an ongoing process over the next several years," he said. "We're going to have to raise some money and hire a consultant."

The 2,000-square-foot building on the 500 block of South Broad is rustic, raw wood that has gone gray over time. The porch is slightly wobbly, and the front lawn is sparse.

Inside, what was once a large, open space with high ceilings, exposed beams and a loft is now eight boxlike offices with low ceilings and fluorescent lights.

But there's no doubt, officials said, that it's a good deal at $1 a year.

Joe Kelly, SEPTA's chief government information officer, said his organization jumped at the opportunity to lease the space. He said SEPTA was concerned that the abandoned property would be vandalized.

"It was in everybody's best interest to lease the building," he said.

Kelly said the station was last used as offices about three years ago, and he said he was not sure what would happen to the building, or the community's dreams, when the 15-year lease is up.

At this point, Warren said, the group is in the beginning stages of raising money for a new climate-control system and some plumbing repairs. It also has started applying for state grants.

"As far as displaying artifacts, we really need to have a much better heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system," Warren said. "We need museum-quality air controls. We're hoping, after applying for a few more grants, that it won't be too long before we can put up exhibits."

The group said it hoped to display photographs, antiques and other items passed down through the decades by Kennett Square families.

Warren said she would like to remove the interior walls and bring the building back to its original state. She said she believed the high ceilings and open space would be the best floor plan for a museum.

"We're going to try to do some research into what colors the freight station was originally," Warren said. "You can do that by looking at older photographs or doing a paint analysis. If you hire the right consultants, you can do just about anything."

Kelly Wolfe's e-mail address is kwolfe@phillynews.com

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