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A kid’s dream: Gainesville park opens with real train, playground
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The Engine 209 Park was open Thursday, May 5, 2022, as the seating area surrounding the train is installed. - photo by Scott Rogers

Engine 209 made a big move last summer, and now its new park is open. 

The park features a playground area with slides, picnic tables, a boardwalk over a pond, a large mural and easy access to the train car.

“It’s made the train much more accessible,” Gainesville Parks and Recreation Director Kate Mattison said Monday, May 9. “When it was over off Jesse Jewell, it was just a drive-by feature. There wasn’t any parking over there to speak of, and even when you walked up to the train, there was a fence between you and the train, and now it’s a lot more accessible.”

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Landscaping at the Engine 209 Park nears completion Thursday, May 5, 2022, as the bridge is completed and trees installed. - photo by Scott Rogers

Engine 209 sat at the intersection of Jesse Jewell Parkway and West Academy Street for 30 years. Before that, the engine was on display at the grounds of the old train depot, which is now home to The Arts Council’s Smithgall Arts Center. 

The engine ran on the Gainesville Midland railway, which connected Gainesville with Athens and Jefferson starting in 1906. Train cars carried textiles, building materials, coal and other commodities through the city, helping promote population growth in the early 20th century. Engine 209 was built in 1930 and made its last trip in 1959. 

In August, it was moved to 878 Grove St. to become the centerpiece of a new park.

That park is now “substantially complete,” Mattison said, but there are a few aspects left to finish such as adjusting some lighting, adding signs and fixing pavers. 

“The park is open; there have been people using it left and right,” Mattison said. 

The city could add a feature to allow people to step up and look into the tender car, Mattison said, but accessibility details would need to be worked out. 

The park’s development is part of a $2 million project to revitalize the midtown area. The Engine 209 Park was the first phase of this process, and phase two includes adding lighting to Midtown Greenway, which should be complete by September, Mattison said. 

The third phase could include adding a covered stage and a water feature near the entrance to Midland at 682 Grove St., where the city recently completed an inclusive playground, compliant with the Americans for Disabilities Act.

“I’m hoping, if we can, (to) put some tiered seating into the hill that’s at that area,” Mattison said. “We’re working through that with architects right now to see if that’s feasible or not.” 


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The Engine 209 Park was open Thursday, May 5, 2022, as the playground and surrounding area is installed. - photo by Scott Rogers
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The Engine 209 Park was open Thursday, May 5, 2022, as the playground and surrounding area is installed. - photo by Scott Rogers
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The Engine 209 Park was open Thursday, May 5, 2022, as the playground and surrounding area is installed. - photo by Scott Rogers