Not many towns in Western Pennsylvania, or in the country for that matter, can declare they are home to a Romanesque-style train station built in 1897 that still retains all of the original charm from that era and is so well-maintained that it could function today as a passenger station.
The town of Beaver can make that claim.
And big plans are in the works to create a new mission for the 8,500-square-foot train station on a two-acre site along East End Avenue.
In May, the borough closed on a deal with the Beaver Area Heritage Foundation to take over the station and begin a project to convert the historic building into a multi-use cultural and community center.
"It took a great group of people with a lot of vision to bring this together," said Mark Miner, a member of the Beaver Area Heritage Train Station Study Group.
The former Pittsburgh & Lake Erie passenger station served travelers for 85 years. After it closed, it was bought by Beaver County to serve as the county's 911 Emergency Response Center.
When the 911 center moved to a larger building several years ago, Beaver Borough took over the station.
"It is in good condition for its age. We are fortunate that the previous owners maintained and kept the building in such good shape," Mr. Miner said.
The station features yellow brick and brown stone trim in the Romanesque style, and still retains its original terrazzo floors, stained glass arch windows and brass fixtures.
A $100,000 state grant enabled the borough and the Heritage Foundation to hire Pfaffmann Associates, a Pittsburgh-based architectural firm, to conduct a yearlong restoration and reuse study of the building.
The plan calls for converting the upper level and surrounding lawn into community event space.
The former passenger waiting room will become a meeting area capable of seating up to 175 people for banquets and other events such as weddings or festivals.
Most of the lower level will house the Beaver County Genealogy and History Center, which will relocate from the Carnegie Free Library in Beaver Falls.
The Beaver Area Heritage Museum will move part of its collection of archives and local artifacts into the station.
"We are out of space," Mr. Miner said of the museum's expanding collection of photos, historical papers, and other artifacts housed in the former Pennsylvania & Lake Erie railroad freight station located next door to the passenger station.
Plans also call for the Sweetwater Center for the Arts in Sewickley to offer classes for adults and children.
A catering kitchen on the lower level will enable Sweetwater to offer cooking classes.
New features will include placing a gazebo on the lawn and reconstructing part of the original track side platform where visitors can safely watch passing trains.
A series of panels on the platform will highlight the history of Beaver County.
"We believe it will be a destination, bringing people to Beaver who wouldn't normally come, and that will help businesses in town," Mr. Miner said.
The Beaver Area Heritage Foundation has launched a $2.3 million capital campaign seeking private and public grants and donations.
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has given a vote of confidence to the project with a $25,000 grant.
A major goal of the project, Mr. Miner said, is to make the station self-sustaining with rental income from various events covering operating costs.
While all of the unique historical elements of the building will be preserved, one very modern feature is being added that the original designers couldn't have imagined.
A geothermal system will be installed, helping to reduce heating and air conditioning costs in the station's third century of operation.
Bob Podurgiel, freelance writer: email@example.com. First Published July 11, 2013 4:00 AM