West Point resident envisions visitor's center, mill model

West Point resident Rhett Coates is encouraging the Town to consider making a model of the RockTenn mill, and a visitor's center in West Point. Amy Jo Martin photo

WEST POINT – West Point resident Rhett Coates loves his town, but thinks it is missing one thing: a visitor's center.

"There is a deep history in West Point and since this fair town was indeed the 'Port of Richmond,' that strategic importance is largely being forgotten in the early 21st century," Coates said.

Coates, whose mother and father both worked at RockTenn mill, located at 1813 Main St., recently sent a letter to Town Council and Mayor Jim Hudson, suggesting that the Town look into creating a visitor's center, complete with a model of the mill.

"The original paper mill, Chesapeake Pulp & Paper Co., opened with fanfare on May 16, 1914, and it is my sincere hope that such a new regional information center — unlike the large pamphlet display at the Intersttate 64 New Kent rest area — would offer far more: a genuine tourist attraction, which would be one of the single, largest modular model displays east of the Mississippi River," Coates said in the letter.

"It would be quite a feat and achievement, to begin construction on such a site by May 16, 2014, the hundredth anniversary of the mill's original opening."

Coates added that the Chesapeake Corporation used to give guided tours, and that tours may no longer be possible due to safety concerns under RockTenn ownership.

Coates hopes the proposed 87-foot model of RockTenn will bring visitors into the area. Once in West Point, guests could get information at the visitor's center and explore the history of the surrounding area, such as the location of Chief Powhatan's gravesite in King William County.

According to Town Manager John Edwards, the Town Council has discussed a visitor's center in the past. However, they have not discussed or set aside any money to build one in the near future.

"It would be something to look forward to in the future," Edwards added.

"A visitor's center is not our top priority right now. We would have to plan ahead, find the funds and work on designs."

Despite a lack of action, Coates hasn't given up hope.

"There is a tremendous affection for the town by its citizens, which transcends age and generation," Coates said.

Martin can be reached at804-885-0040.