$1.65m arrives for transportation museum|[03/08/07]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Vicksburg Transportation Museum, a project planned to fill the Levee Street Depot with displays relating to planes, trains, boats and cars and their roles in local history, received $1.65 million in funds Wednesday from the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

&#8220We’re looking forward to getting this thing started,” said Lamar Roberts, who has led the drive since 2005 to organize and open what will be his second museum project. &#8220The $1,651,000 is 70 to 80 percent of what we need. We’re seeking other grants as well.”

The MDOT grant, part of funds put aside by Congress for transportation enhancements, was presented by Central District Department of Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall to the city, which owns the 100-year-old building, and board members of the museum, who are leasing the space and will oversee and operate it.

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&#8220We’ve had a lot of applications for funds and only the most worthy projects were chosen to participate,” Hall said at a small gathering in front of the columned depot near City Front. &#8220I, personally, thought this was very worthy.”

Plans are to renovate the structure to the way it looked in 1907, when it served 22 passenger trains and freight trains that came through Vicksburg each day. The museum will display models, dioramas, artifacts, paintings, photos and memorabilia relating to Vicksburg’s history as a transhipment center once marketed as a place &#8220where river, rail and highway meet.” The project is expected to total about $2.5 million, said Roberts, also the developer of the former Blue and Gray Naval Museum, which was on Washington Street before moving to a site near Interstate 20 as the Battlefield Museum.

&#8220We need to get Vicksburg back to its grandeur,” said board chairman Chuck Bond. &#8220It gets me excited thinking about it.”

Mayor Laurence Leyens said he went after the building as part of his urban renewal plan for City Front, which includes the $3 million interactive Art Park at Catfish Row and the Vicksburg Riverfront Mural project. Plans to bring a $15 million interpretive center of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the area are under way and partially funded by Congress.

&#8220This is the light at the end of the tunnel,” Leyens said. &#8220These funds are critical to the outcome of this project.”

Now that funds have been received, Roberts said it will be 90 days before work begins on the depot, which has had initial renovations since the city bought it in 2002. During the 90 days, an environmental study will be performed on the building, an architect will draw proposed changes and a bid will be written for a contractor. Roberts said he expects the museum to open about 14 months later.

In order to continue raising funds, the museum will begin a capital campaign, as well as a membership drive.

The old depot, which saw its last passenger train leave the station in about 1950, has served as a restaurant twice, a beauty salon, apartments and, most recently, a dialysis treatment center. Bond said, before the city bought it, the building had been vacant for about nine years.

It and the Holly Street Depot, which was just east of the Cherry Street viaduct, were the two major depots serving Vicksburg. The Holly Street Depot was torn down in the 1970s.


To donate money to the Vicksburg Transportation Museum or to become a member, call Lamar Roberts at 601-415-1858.