It was reminiscent of the excitement she remembers feeling in her younger days when boarding a train, welcoming loved ones back home, and taking family trips to the depot on Sunday afternoons just to see “who was coming to town.”
“It was a hustling and bustling place,” Nolan said. “It was a place filled with emotions. It was a microcosm of life.”
For the past year, the Harlan County Extension Office has been overseeing construction efforts on the $1.3 million depot recreation project The University of Kentucky-sponsored community education agency needed a place to conduct workshops and special programming for large crowds, and the site of the old Harlan depot became available.
It then became the county extension board's vision to make the meeting facility resemble the old depot as much as possible.
And they succeeded. Just ask Nolan.
“It's thrilling to see it standing there,” Nolan said. “It's very gratifying because it's close to what it looked like years and years ago. When the depot was torn down, it killed us. We mourned its loss. It was like a part of our history had disappeared. Now, history has come back to life.”
Theresa Howard, extension agent for family and consumer science, said the new depot will be the site of plenty of lively activities. She, along with her fellow extension agents and staff, are looking forward to the added programming her agency will be able to provide because of the new structure.
“There will be plenty of life here again,” Howard said, “plenty of hustling and bustling. We'll make sure of that.”
Although the Harlan County Extension Office Depot started housing special events not long after it was completed in August, the impressive facility's grand opening will not be celebrated until Thursday night. Howard said activities can get hectic for her agency during the fall, and the extension board agreed Christmas would be the perfect time to host an open house.
Hours for the new Harlan County Extension Office Depot holiday open house have been set for 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday night.
“This is our Christmas gift to Harlan County,” Howard said. “We will have plenty of Christmas favors to hand out to our guests, entertainment, plus some door prizes, but we're most excited for the people of Harlan County to come and see the depot - to see what a wonderful building it is for our area.”
Nolan said she couldn't think of any better gift for Harlan County.
“The Harlan Depot was like Grand Central Station - where a thousand lives played out,” Nolan said. “It's where soldiers were shipped off to war, it's where lovers bade sad farewells, and it's where old friends were happily reunited. If was filled with life - people hugging, people crying. There was anticipation in the air, nervousness, sadness and happiness.”
Loyall resident Pete Vowell, who is a railroad history enthusiast, said he believed the Harlan Depot was erected in 1912. Vowell said the first passenger train rolled into Harlan County in 1911 and that the depot wasn't yet finished.
“And it was sometime in the 1950s that the last passenger train came to Harlan County and the depot closed,” Vowell said. “And it just broke everybody's heart when it was torn down in the 1980s. But I'm glad to see what the extension office has done by recreating the depot. They don't know how special of an addition this is to Harlan County.”
Ages resident Junior Deaton, who also remembers the heyday of the passenger trains, said the building “was one of the most beautiful things he's ever seen.”
“Because it looks like the old depot, and that is precious to me,” Deaton said. “It's precious to many Harlan Countians who remember those days.”
Jeremy Williams, extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, said he enjoyed learning about the depot's history during the last year while helping oversee construction efforts.
“All the stories that's been shared and the interesting railroad history that's been told has made this project much more meaningful to us,” Williams said, “We started out with a goal of offering more space for extension activities and the opportunity to expand extension programming, but what has happened in the long run is that we've played a part in preserving and celebrating Harlan County history. And that's neat.”