Chapel renovation, latest project to revive historic Draper community

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DRAPER, Va. (WDBJ7) It's often said among those who live in Draper, the world comes to those who live here. Not so long ago that wasn't the case.

The small community is getting its life back one building at a time and bringing in thousands of visitors.

A small, nearly forgotten, white church in Pulaski County was left to decay until Debbie Gardner and her husband had a vision.

"When you look at this chapel what do you see?" asked WDBJ7's Justin Ward.

"All the possibilities," Gardner said.

The former Draper Christian Church just turned 121 years old. It folded after attendance dwindled away.

The Gardner's bought it with dreams of turning it into a venue for weddings, recovery meetings, music, and hostel rooms.

"I see this place as having its own voice, much different than anything we've ever done," Gardner said.

The Gardner's have the gift of listening to that voice.

The church is the latest project of many to revive a community almost lost to history. It started as a pit stop for drivers from nearby Interstate 81 and bikers from surrounding trails.

The Draper Mercantile and Trading Company in a building that took three years to renovate, is now a destination restaurant with locally grown food from a nearby farm.

"It wasn't that this was set out and this was the purpose. One thing just leads to another and it just feels like the right thing to do," Gardner said.

Their brand expanded as more visitors stopped in. An old bank and fire department recently opened as a store stocked with southern charm. The couple also runs 30 rental lake and river properties nearby. More projects are planned.

"You have people from all over the world riding past our porch. The experiences and everything you have is really amazing at what happens here in Draper," Gardner said.