The company houses at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park have a beautiful new glow about them. Christmas lights were installed by town employees and members of the newly formed volunteer group, Friends of Cass. Photo courtesy of Walter Scriptunas II

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

The company houses at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park have always had the look of a classic Christmas village and now, thanks to a collective effort, the town has stepped it up another notch with the addition of Christmas lights.

The project sprung from an idea after J.T. Arbogast and Kim Dilts organized several Christmas activities last year at the park as a way to extend the holiday season for visitors and community members alike.

“We had talked about our dream for Cass being a holiday destination,” Dilts said.

After a chance meeting with Gil and Mary Willis at a restaurant in Lewisburg, Arbogast and Dilts were led to write a grant to the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau to purchase lights for the town.

“We got together, and we all agreed – we felt like white lights would make it look traditional and old-fashioned, kind of like the houses,” Dilts said.

The grant fully-funded the project. The couple, with the help of brother/brother-in-law Jonathan Arbogast and the town employees, began the work. Now the company houses on Main Street look beautiful.

The group went into the project thinking it would take a day or two, but soon realized that decorating the exterior of a house exterior for Christmas takes a lot of work.

“There were days when we were all out on roofs just hanging lights.” J.T said. “We all thought, ‘Oh, it’ll probably take twenty, thirty minutes a house.’ I think the first day we got four or five houses done. It was a long stretch.”

“All the houses are different, so you had to find the power source,” Dilts added. “There were a couple we did backwards and had to redo them.”

Despite the setbacks, the lights were installed on the houses, and a series of red and white rope lights decorated the bridge leading into town.

To add to the Christmas village theme, three large murals are displayed in the empty lots between the houses.

“Lisa Cassell is a really talented local painter,” Dilts said. “We commissioned Lisa to do three paintings for Main Street. She also painted the ‘Elfie Selfie’ that is in the store. She did an amazing job.”

The lights and paintings were installed just in time for the first of the Elf Train rides, which will continue through the holiday season.

It takes a village to create a village, and the trio give a lot of credit to the town employees, superintendent Marshall Markley and the Mountain State Railroad and Logging Historical Association.

“You’ve got Mountain State here who does a great deal of stuff in terms of preservation,” J.T. said. “We were trying to determine how we could complement what they were doing. We worked out a great deal where we could be under their umbrella but create this sort of sub-foundation under them that we’re currently calling the Friends of Cass.”

The Friends of Cass sub-foundation is similar to the Watoga Park Foundation. It is a group of volunteers who want to bring more events to the park and raise funds for future projects.

“It allows us to take donations and raise money around these events,” J.T. said.

“It is an opportunity to broaden the focus. Mountain State is focused more on preservation of the railroad and logging history – which is what the whole town is about – but it [sub-foundation] gives us an avenue for volunteers to come and help,” Markley said. 

The lights are just one more addition to the Christmas in Cass events which began November 23. For a full schedule of events, see ad on page 3.

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