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November 24, 2008

News Article:

Date published: 11/24/2008

Hoping to teach Interstate 95 travelers that there's more to do in Caroline County than stopping briefly for gas, officials Saturday opened their new visitors center.

Those venturing past the truck stops to the $2.6 million center, located at busy Exit 104, will learn that Caroline is the birthplace of famous racehorse Secretariat, the location where a prehistoric whale skeleton was found, the new home of the Virginia State Fair, and the place where John Wilkes Booth was killed.

"This is going to be a great asset to Caroline," said Floyd Thomas, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors. "We're right on the busiest interstate in America. If you really didn't know, we're just a gas stop. We're trying to make Caroline more of a destination."

The visitors center was nine years in the planning and building, as the county sought private sponsorships and slowly amassed the money to pay for the 7,000-square-foot building, which also houses the county's Department of Economic Development and Tourism.

No tax money went into the project; it was funded entirely by grants, gifts and donations.

"This center is the physical address that gets people to Caroline and sends them to the right direction, the right event," said county Economic Development Director Gary Wilson.

A highlight of the center is the replica--hanging in front of tall windows that face the road--of the skeleton of a Miocene-era whale discovered in 1991 at the Martin Marietta Quarry in Caroline.

The whale lived 14 million years ago, when Caroline County was covered by the Atlantic Ocean.

The display also includes a board of information about the whale and prehistory in Caroline, as well as some other fossils from the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

Those fossils include the jawbone of a young horse, probably about the size of a large dog, that also lived about 14 million years ago and probably washed out to sea when it died.

The center also has brochures, maps and interactive displays to tell visitors about attractions in Caroline and elsewhere in Virginia.

Signs will soon go up on the interstate to direct travelers to the center.

Chelyen Davis: 804/782-9362

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