Man plans to join past, present, future inside historic Marion building

Joe Wheeler is the current owner of 44 Depot Street in Marion, North Carolina. The 120-year-old building has a rich history that Wheeler knows all about. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

There are a lot of sayings about how living in the past can hurt your future, but one McDowell County man has plans to mix the past, present and future within one historic building.

Joe Wheeler is the owner of 44 Depot St. in Marion, North Carolina. The 120-year-old building has a rich history that Wheeler knows all about.

He recounted the moment when 44 Depot used to be liquor distillery. Wheeler said a train would roll up and drop off grain -- then leave just as full as it arrived.

"It was 100 percent corn whiskey, which we all know is moonshine," he explained. "They'd send it back out the door, load it on the train and take it all over the South."

Wheeler said the building's next incarnation was as Blanton's Grocery Store, which sold almost everything

"It stayed Blanton's for the longest time, and then I think in the '50s, latter part of the '50s, it was Lafferty's Furniture Co.," he said.

While Wheeler keeps a part of his mind in the past when it comes to 44 Depot St., he also has plans for its future -- including retail and living space.

"If we get it back to where we think it needs to be, we want to be able to walk in the front door and feel like it's 1894," he explained.

Wheeler believes history needs to be preserved, that's why his vision for 44 Depot includes its past.

However, all that history and his plans for the future almost went up in smoke after an electrical fire in August 2017.

"I panicked about the fire. Luckily, it just did a minimal amount of damage," Wheeler said. "Electrical panel that caught fire, and burnt just the underneath of the roof and maybe did $1,000 worth of damage. I can put it back. It's not a problem. We got really lucky."

Presently, the historic building houses a dojo downstairs. Wheeler, who is a fifth-degree black belt, actually bought the building after his sensei retired. Wheeler said he wanted to make sure the kids had somewhere to go.

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