James Walls

This article appeared in the Greeneville Sun on Tuesday December 11, 2003 and is used by permission from the Greeneville Sun.

This Santa Gives Bulls Gap Hotel for Railroad Museum


Gilley's Hotel Ownership Transferred to Association

story and photos by Bob Hurley

     Santa came to Bulls Gap early this year, and a lot of us are as wide-eyed and excited as any kid you've ever seen on Christmas morning.

     James Walls not only looks exactly like St. Nick, but he is every bit as generous.

     Thanks to Santa James, Bulls Gap is on its way to adding a railroad museum to the old town that planners are calling "a dream come true".

     James donated the building and property for the proposed museum, and it is not just any old place down  along the tracks.

     It is Gilley's Hotel, one of the most historic landmarks still standing on the main line between Bristol and Knoxville.

     "A lot of people believe we can transform the historic old hotel into a fine railroad museum, perhaps one of the finest in Tennessee" said Bill Haskins, president of the Bulls Gap Railroad Museum Association.

Ownership Transferred

     All the paperwork was completed earlier in the fall to transfer ownership of the property from Wall to the association, and the wheels to restore the hotel property have been turning ever since.

     "It is going to take a lot of money and a lot of work, but a lot of people think we can get enough help and enough grant money to pull it off", Haskins said.

     While no actual figures have been released as to what Walls' donation amounts to, Haskins and other members of the museum association are saying that up to a million dollars will be needed to restore the property and transform it into a museum.

     "We are not kidding ourselves here," Haskins said. " We know we are looking at a huge amount of money, but a lot of optimism has been expressed in terms of raising it".

     He said that details for grant applications are still being worked out, with help possibly coming from a number of sources, ranging from regional tourism funds to little-known transportation grants the U.S. Rep. Bill Jenkins, R-1st, of Hawkins county, will seek to obtain for the museum.

     "Several knowledgeable people are working on the grant applications, and it will be several weeks perhaps months before we will know what is really available", said Haskins.

Expression of Thanks

     For Walls, who has played Santa in parades and other events for many years, the donation of the hotel property was simply his way of saying thanks to the little town he has come to love in 20 years.

     "I considered selling it," Walls said, "but everyone that expressed an interest in it insisted that I spend a lot of money to make it acceptable to them."

     But Walls, a native of South Carolina who has an apartment in the old hotel but also maintains a home at Laurens, which is near Spartanburg, didn't want to undertake a project of that magnitude.

     "I am not the kind of person who likes conflict," said Walls." By giving it all away, I will not have to worry and argue over what someone else wants to do."

 So he approached Haskins back in the summer with an offer that sounded to good to be true.

     " I was working in our little museum that is now housed in the old Quillen Store Building," Haskins said, " when James came in and announced that he had something he wanted to give us."

     The offer came as such a shock that it caught Haskins completely off-guard.

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