- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — When Mort Sajadian was helping launch Amazement Square years ago, he recalled taking a small canoe down waist-deep water inside the late 19th-century stone train tunnel below Jefferson Street.

A natural spring caused the water buildup in the tunnel - which hadn’t been used since about 1970 - before the Amazement Square president and CEO took the canoe ride in the late 1990s.

Ideas for future educational opportunities inside the barrel-vaulted structure hit him like a locomotive.

“I realized what a great structure it is,” said Sajadian during a recent interview inside the 150-foot tunnel. “All these stones are hand-carved. You just don’t see this anymore. This is a real work of architecture. We felt that this was very important to preserve.”

The museum plans to incorporate the historic transportation feature within the new education center it hopes to start building early next year. Restoring the tunnel into usable program and event space is part of the first phase of a fundraising campaign underway.

The second phase would usher small groups of visitors in and out of the space through an interactive “time tunnel” machine that Sajadian said would have a futuristic look. The 2,000-square-foot exhibit could serve groups of nearly 20, including a facilitator who would take visitors through the space, and then stop and present a challenge to tackle.

“It’s a way of getting the audience to interact and solve a problem,” he said.

Each seat would have a computer monitor, and the idea is for visitors to feel like they are traveling in time. Themes could include the history of transportation, energy and architecture.

“We want to make it into an educational experience,” he said.

The museum’s website says the project would be the attraction’s most sophisticated exhibit to date and a first in the nation. The tunnel, located behind a warehouse that Amazement Square owns and will demolish for the new center’s construction, is aesthetically and structurally sound but needs stabilization.

The tunnel would not be altered or changed and the main work would go toward creating and implementing the exhibit. Sajadian said the project is estimated at $1.5 million to $1.6 million.

The tunnel was closed in from the east side with boulders and the train tracks have been removed. The opening can be seen just below street level from the sidewalk on Jefferson Street.

Lynchburg Museum Director Doug Harvey said the Lynchburg and Danville Railroad built the structure in about 1870 and the line became the Southern Railway in 1894.

Harvey said most pedestrians passing the museum on Jefferson likely never would know the tunnel is below.

The tunnel is woven into the Amazement Square property, though it is hidden in a rendering of the new education center that will be built around it. A park-like atmosphere just outside the entrance is part of the site plan for the new center, a project that will accommodate thousands of new visitors each year and greatly expand learning space.

To refresh visitors’ experiences, the museum plans to periodically change the themes of the trips inside the tunnel once the exhibit is up and running.

Ashleigh Karol, director of marketing for Amazement Square, said a goal is to make the community more aware of local history while providing an enjoyable and enriching activity. She compared the project to a similar plan the city of Lynchburg has to restore the Kanawha Canal, a former waterway that once fed into the James River, into a pedestrian-friendly amenity.

“People forget that we were such a train town,” said Karol. “This town survived on transportation and goods and industries coming down the river on the canal and the trains. That is so much a part of Lynchburg’s history and heritage. Lynchburg was a hub of Central Virginia.”

Amazement Square plans to showcase the tunnel on several dates this month: on Saturday, during the fall festival, the space was to feature a “glow zone” and guests at the Ugly Bug Ball, the attraction’s annual fundraiser, would be given an opportunity to walk through. A “spooky tour” will be held on Halloween, Karol said.

Contingent on the city’s progress on the ongoing combined sewer overflow project, Sajadian said he hopes the new educational center will be finished by this time next year. The city has been supportive in allowing the use of the tunnel in the long-term plans, he added.

Upon first laying eyes on the tunnel’s stone wall, he said his first thought was: “My gosh, this is in good shape.”

Along with the educational potential, he said a goal is to teach a more technology-savvy generation of young people about the value of a city relic they can see up close and personal.

“You can’t buy another one of these things,” he said.

___

Information from: The News & Advance, http://www.newsadvance.com/

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide