Town looks to purchase, restore Bellows Falls Train Station building

The Historic Bellows Falls Train Station. Photo by Joe Milliken

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – Back in early February, the Rockingham Selectboard discussed the possibility of a new business, possibly a brew pub and restaurant, to be located at the historic Bellows Falls Train Station. On Town Meeting Day, Bellows Falls residents voted overwhelmingly to purchase the building, which is currently owned by Vermont Rail Systems.

Nearly two years ago, Rockingham residents had approved a more than $12,000 environmental feasibility study of the Train Station Island location just below The Square in Bellows Falls, while leveraging matching funds from the Windham Regional Commission. Subsequently, during 2021’s Rockingham Area Wide Plan discussions, the general feeling was of support for the possible addition of a brew pub (or other business) alongside the current train station.

The Selectboard recently reviewed an analysis presented by architectural designer, Matt Giffin, of Banwell Architects in Brattleboro. Griffin’s initial design offered a potential restaurant and three-to-five-barrel brew pub facility, describing a full building renovation including a new barrel room, restaurant area and kitchen, while decreasing the size of the bathrooms and waiting room. The designs offered a historical feel as well, featuring various artifacts and memorabilia being collected throughout the train station facility.

Although the basic structure of the historic building is good, including the recent replacement of the roof, the renovations needed would include masonry and exterior brickwork, as well as electrical and plumbing work, insulation, and new replacement windows. However, it was also stressed that every effort would be made to restore the historic character and integrity of the original building.

“Bellows Falls has a long and proud history of the railroad providing passenger and freight services to the community, and especially supporting ‘the island’ and changing industrial partners over many decades,” Bellows Falls Town Manager Scott Pickup said in a recent interview.

“The re-invigoration of the historic train station space would be yet another opportunity to enhance our local heritage, and position the building to serve as a focal point for new investment and development.”

Although the initial floor plans presented revolved around a potential “brewpub business,” both Giffin and Pickup indicated that this particular idea was not locked-in and certainly not the only viable option, with Giffin indicating that the designs were created to simply support the idea of the train station only requiring 20% of the building space in order to function, leaving adequate space for a new business, of any kind, to operate.

“Last year, there were some talks put together by the local development office about the future of ‘the island,’ and the idea of a ‘brew pub’ in the station was a popular one,” said Bellows Falls resident and artist, Charlie Hunter. “Therefore, this was the model consultants used as an example to show that, indeed, such a mixed-use (of the building space) could work well, logistically.

“The question is seemingly whether there is currently enough local business [to support the idea], however, what might make sense is having a fledging brewing operator initially become tenants as a wholesale/go-to operator, with the intention to expand into having a retail space in the future.

“That said, I think voters were very wise to approve purchase of the depot, and that renovations should take place, in concert with the ongoing development of the island. With proper planning, the retail aspect of the business could come to the depot at the same time the new bridge [Vilas Bridge renovations] comes into use.”

The total renovation of the building will cost an estimated $4 million, which is part of a $30 million overall upgrade to area road and bridge infrastructure. The first phase of the project, which involves the purchase of the building, is estimated at $350,000.

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