For their 50th reunion, the class of 1973 plans to renovate and reimagine the downtown train depot into a welcome center for visitors to the University. This is in addition to a fundraising project for a scholarship to be awarded to a first-generation student. Jimmy Wilson (C ’73), owner of Blue Chair, and Nan Jennings (C ’73) are co-chairs of the projects. The welcome center will serve as the trailhead for the Mountain Goat Trail.
The Sewanee train depot was here to serve the railroad before the University existed. The current depot building is not the original, but the University has already worked on exterior renovations for the future welcome center.
With the milestone of their 50th reunion occuring this past weekend, the class decided to set a $400,000 goal for their projects. Since then, they have surpassed their original goal to amass around $550,000 total.
The project will serve many groups in the community, according to Wilson. “It benefits visitors, it benefits the merchants, it benefits incoming students, and it benefits the community and the bike riders,” said Wilson. The welcome center will help downtown Sewanee “thrive,” said Wilson, amongst the University’s plan to invest in the Village. The welcome center project is in collaboration with the Sewanee Business Alliance, The Sewanee Trust for Historic Preservation, the Civic Association, and the Mountain Goat Trail Alliance. All of these organizations are 501(c)(3) organizations, with the exception of the Sewanee Business Alliance, a 501(c)(6). The ’73 class’s donation will mostly go towards the lobby of the welcome center, since the organizations involved are all chipping in for the welcome center. The Mountain Goat Trail Alliance ordered metal picnic tables and chairs for the center as well.
The Mountain Goat Trail is halfway finished, currently running from Tracy City to Sewanee. When completed, the trail will span seven towns in two counties, from Palmer to Cowan. Currently, around the Sewanee area, there are no public bathrooms for a 40-mile radius. The welcome center at the depot, among other things such as visiting prospective students and travelers driving through, will serve bikers, hikers, and any trail-user with public, ADA compliant bathrooms, water, and snacks.
The class of ’73 is also endowing a scholarship for a first-generation student. As the first class to include women at the University, the class of ’73 hopes to create a legacy that centers around welcoming all to the University. “When we came in 1969, [the trustees] decided that, for the future of Sewanee, they needed to admit women. The faculty, the administration, and the students were against it. They were woefully unprepared,” said Jennings, one of the first women to ever attend Sewanee. “We didn’t feel truly welcome except by our classmates. When we started talking about welcoming a first-generation student and welcoming anyone who comes to this community [through the welcome center], it brought up a lot of feelings for a lot of us. That goal of welcoming people to this community and not turning them away is really what drove me to support this project.”
Construction will begin on the depot in the spring, Wilson said, and the class of ’73 hopes the project will be finished by the Fourth of July in 2024. Wilson said he and Jennings have received help from several friends of the community and University, including Jim Patching (C ’73) and Mike Maxon (C ’73), both members of the class of ’73 class committee, as well as the University Alumni Office and Advancement Office.
The welcome center will have a plaque that commemorates the class of ’73 as the first to welcome women: “This Center’s lobby was made possible by the 50th Reunion gifts of the Class of 1973, Sewanee’s first class to admit women as full-time undergraduates,” the plaque reads.