Although the City Beautiful has experienced a nice week of fall temperatures in the lead up to Saturday’s Loblolly Festival, on Friday, Laurel Mayor Johnny Magee declared, “The City of Laurel is on FIRE!”
Magee’s remarks opened the ribbon cutting ceremony at the Laurel Train Depot where dignitaries had gathered to celebrate the completion of an ADA compliant train platform and new pavilion complete with benches handmade at Scotsman Co.
The event began at 12:15 p.m. when the Amtrak train stopped at the Laurel depot and United States Senators Cindy Hyde-Smith and Roger Wicker, Hometown stars Erin Napier, Jim and Mallorie Rasberry, and Josh and Emily Nowell, and representatives from Amtrak disembarked. Ben Napier, representatives from the City of Laurel and the Jones County Chamber of Commerce were there to greet them.
During the brief ceremony, hosted by Chamber of Commerce Director Chris Tullos, representatives from each organization were invited to share their remarks and acknowledge the hard work that had gone into completing the project.
Mayor Johnny Magee thanked the government officials in attendance including Tom King from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, City Council President Tony Thaxton, and Ward 6 Councilwoman Grace Amos. He also acknowledged the “most popular television couple in the nation” Ben and Erin Napier. “Thank you for all that you do for our city,” he said to the pair.
Executive Vice President for Amtrak Dennis Newman also took to the podium to express his enthusiasm about the project. “I am delighted to be here,” he said. He thanked local providers from Chris Albritton Construction, Brady Electric, and Four Seasons Lawn and Landscaping. Newman explained that Amtrak’s goal is to connect communities and that “mobility is what Amtrak is all about.” Bringing the station up to the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act allows Amtrak to provide more services to more people and allow them to use the train system to visit loved ones or see more of the country. (Or travel to their favorite HGTV destination.)
Jim Rasberry, Josh Nowell, and Ben Napier also spoke during the event to thank Amtrak for their investment in the local community. Nowell explained that the location for The Laurel Mercantile, the business co-owned by the three families, was selected specifically for its proximity to the train depot. Napier agreed. He explained that having locations that were visible to people just arriving in town by train, became “an important part of our marketing and our business plan.” He also thanked Amtrak for hiring local tradesmen to complete the work. “Making houses beautiful is one thing, but if you don’t have people to live in the houses, what’s the point?” Napier said. Rasberry joined in to say, “What you are talking about, Ben, is heart.” He pointed out that the train station is a big part of the heart of the city, stating that the Masonite whistle and the train whistle are “a part of your being, if you are from Laurel.”
Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith stated that she was honored to be a part of the celebration. “We all love Mississippi, but we really love Laurel, Mississippi. It’s rare that you have people that are so invested in their community.” She also thanked Amtrak for their work in making the area more accessible. “Thank you for representing every American today,” she said.
Senator Roger Wicker rounded out the line-up and highlighted the importance of rail travel in the United States. “In 2019, 32 million Americans rode on Amtrak. One-hundred twenty-two thousand of those passengers were Mississippi passengers,” he said. “This is a great day. Let’s continue to enjoy this beautiful country of ours!”
For all the behind-the-scenes photos, check out our Instagram page at laurel_ms.