EDMORE — If the walls of the historic General Bag building could talk, tales of the old brick building would reveal the variety of business operations conducted there during its 125-year existence.
In the late 1800s, the whistle blew as the CSX train twined in and around Edmore businesses to pick up and transport local farm produce and other manufactured goods. The train stopped at the loading dock at W.R. Roach & Co, a canning factory where several hundred seasonal workers packed and sealed vegetables from fields Roach had leased.
In 1939, the canning factory was purchased by General Bag Corporation of Cleveland, Ohio, and the factory changed from canning vegetables to manufacturing cotton and burlap bags for the farm industry.
General Bag Corp. went out of business in the mid-1990s after a half century of booming commerce. The building sat vacant until the Edmore Downtown Development Authority (DDA) purchased it in the fall of 2009.
Trail takes center stage
Trains no longer stop in Edmore and the old railroad corridor has been replaced by the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail. The last trail section on the old railroad bed between Edmore and Riverdale was paved this summer, making a total distance of nearly 40 miles from just northeast of Greenville to Edmore and east to Alma.
Eventually, the Heartland Trail will connect to a much larger trail system and create a continuous 125-mile trail, the fifth largest in the United States.
Trail supporters and community leaders hope to cash in on that and draw more recreation enthusiasts to Edmore. The former General Bag building, one of the oldest buildings in Edmore, located next to the trailhead is a big part of that.
“We want to give people a reason to stop along their journey,” said Edmore DDA member Rich Adgate. “The continual trail expansion gives us even more motive to use this as an opportunity to help preserve our little nook.”
Edmore residents Brandon Moore and his father, Dennis, enjoy riding bike on the trail together.
“We’re out on the trail three to four times a week and go anywhere from seven to eight miles at a time,” Brandon said. “On my day off, I usually head to Alma or Greenville.”
Dennis said the central location of the Edmore trailhead brings people to town.
“We’re in a perfect spot here, right in the middle,” he said. “Trail riders stay at the hotel and shop our local businesses.”
Creative new use
The eight-member DDA group of Darrell Smith, Rich Adgate, Mark Sopel, Art Buskirk, Karl Kluwe, Lon Leonard, Jack Miller and Tony Maxfield has big plans to transform the General Bag building into a visitor center and old-fashioned marketplace to shop, freshen up and picnic.
According to Miller, the DDA president, the site will be modeled after the Shipshewana Auction and Flea Market in Indiana.
“The ultimate goal would be to develop the building as a four-season marketplace,” Miller said. “Our vision is to have 40 shops, half operated by Amish craftsmen, where people can spend the day shopping for unique turn-of-the-century items.”
A number of improvements already have been made to the building. The upper section of crumbling brick façade was removed. New windows and a fresh coat of paint were added to the remaining façade.
An old loading dock was removed from the north side. The area has been excavated, several large trees and pieces of old foundation have been removed, and grass and trees have been planted along the parking area.
Heartland Trail adventurists are enjoying this summer’s recent additions of a paved parking lot, restroom facility and pavilion. A farm market takes place on the site Tuesdays and Fridays.
Eventually, visitors will be able to enjoy year-round events, including an outdoor flea market two to three days each week and occasional animal-based auctions.
Also this month, development will continue as Amish workers begin reroofing the 30,000-square-foot building with custom-made timbers made from pine logs at an Amish sawmill in Blanchard.
“How quickly we progress from here depends on funding,” Miller said. “We hope to utilize a Community Development Block Grant to fund the remainder of the project.”
Robin Miller is an Edmore resident.