Railroad Town:
 Boyce, Virginia

Norfolk & Western Depot circa 1913 – Boyce, Virginia (Norfolk Southern photo on loan to Virginia Polytechnic Institute Library)

The Town of Boyce, Virginia and its railway depot have enjoyed a long history together. Nearly as old as the town, the 1913 structure served as its public gathering place, the portal through which travel and commerce passed, and became Boyce’s icon.

Indeed, it was the crossing of a newly-built Shenandoah Valley Railroad with the Winchester and Berry’s Ferry Turnpike that prompted the birth of a new community in formerly dense, forested land. Unlike Berryville, White Post, and Millwood, the Boyce community—briefly named Boyceville—sprung forth around a stop along the tracks relatively late in Clarke County’s development. The town would not have existed were it not for the arrival of the Shenandoah Valley Railroad in 1879. Read more

The Drummer

Antlers Hotel ca. 1910 (scanned from old copy of photo, source/photographer unknown)
It’s 1910.

The drummer* stepped off the westbound Austin & Northwestern Railroad train onto the wet wooden platform, a carpetbag in one hand, a leather-sheathed cardboard sample case in the other, wishing he had booked another night in Austin at the Depot Hotel. He was glad it was only sprinkling when he walked the few blocks from his hotel to Austin’s Union Station. With a sigh he set both down, pulled his coat tighter around him in a useless attempt to set off the bone-chilling dampness of the evening. If it weren’t for the rain – a downpour of the kind seemingly known only to Central Texas – and a washed out bridge a few miles up the line, he’d be spending the night in Llano at the Dabbs where he had reserved a room. Picking up his bags he fell in with his fellow passengers, all but a few stranded like himself, toward the large hotel across the tracks. Read more

Sawed in Two

A Brief History of the
Coutts – Sweetgrass International Train Station

Looking north from the United States toward the newly built train station with the NWMP barracks in the background, in the fall of 1890. Note that the water tower spout is also visible. Glenbow Museum and Archives NA-1167-15.

This is the story of a unique building (the only one we know of) – an international train station that was run by one family operating two railways in the Northwest Territories (pre-Alberta) and Montana and how it was almost lost in the redevelopment of the new border crossing at Coutts Alberta (AB) – Sweetgrass Montana (MT).


Background

In 1883, Sir Alexander Galt and his son Elliott co-founded the Town of Lethbridge, AB when he established a mine on the banks of the Oldman River in the southwest portion of the district of Alberta, Northwest Territories. Galt is a well-known figure in the Lethbridge area where a public park (Galt Gardens) and a museum (Galt Museum and Archives) are named after him. Canada’s then Governor General, the Marquis of Lansdowne, demonstrated the Government’s support of the Galt enterprises by opening the Galt’s railway in September 1885.

Read more

Trackside Elegy

“Where have all the boxcars gone?”

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Empty storage tracks at Bucksport paper mill. – September 2016

Alas, another trackside industry that relied upon dependable railway service  has finally met the scrapper’s torch. The Verso Paper mill in Bucksport, Maine, closed down December 1, 2014. At first, I thought this was another example of creative destruction. However, I am not sure anymore. At present the physical destruction has begun. Unfortunately no creative concept for future development of the property has been revealed. According to local press releases the digital shift, consolidation and off-shore competition were the primary catalysts for closure.

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Empty storage tracks behind Bucksport commercial buildings next to seawall. – September 2016

The eighty-six year old paper mill operated under the aegis of four different owners: the Seaboard Paper Company, St. Regis Paper Company, Champion International Paper and Verso Paper Corporation. During this period the mill, valued at $385 million in 2014, was served by a single nineteen mile long railroad branch line that had undergone three consecutive masthead changes: the Maine Central Railroad Company, the Guilford Rail System and Pan Am Railways.

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GP40-2LW shunting tank cars at Bucksport paper mill. – May 2007

Constructed at a cost of $10 million, the mill opened its doors in November 1930. It employed as many as 1,000 workers in a town of 5,000 inhabitants in the year 2002. When the mill closed, 570 employees lost their jobs and all of the slow moving strings of boxcars and tank cars were doomed to oblivion. The net result was the loss of 24/7 rail activity punctuated by the sound of railcars rocking and rolling over unruly track behind growling diesel switch engines that shunted their daily burdens parallel to Rt 15. Together the railroad and mill provided the perfect place for train watchers and railroad photographers alike.

When the mill was in full operation one could either walk or drive behind the quaint storefronts that cradle the main street of tiny Bucksport. There, one could find three storage tracks crammed with lines of 50 foot boxcars arrayed before a dramatic backdrop that embraced the Penobscot River, historic Fort Knox, the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and the rambling mill complex. Today, as a lamenting trackside photographer, I have to ask myself the question,”Where have all the boxcars gone?”

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Boxcars on storage tracks at Bucksport paper mill. – May 2007

David Kahler, FAIA – Photographs and text Copyright 2016

Railroad Town:
 Concord, North Carolina

Lost

The Concord passenger station depicted in its full glory in this picture postcard circa 1920. The Cabarrus Cotton Mill is visible behind the structure. Image courtesy Concord Public Library
The Concord passenger station depicted in its full glory in this picture postcard circa 1920. The Cabarrus Cotton Mill is visible behind the structure. Image courtesy Concord Public Library

Firmly ensconced in the suburban sprawl of Concord, NC, lay a railroad past bypassed with explosive growth in the Charlotte metropolitan region. As time has marched onward, the expansion of Concord has cloaked a past not unlike numerous cities and towns throughout the North Carolina Piedmont. Whereas the dependence on the railroad, whether it be for passenger travel or the corridor for a bygone textile industry, is gone, the stamp of the past remains conspicuous along this former Southern Railway main line. Modern day annals, however, tend to overlook Concord as compared to other locations along the route such as Salisbury, Spencer, and Kannapolis. Archival photographs of the railroad in Concord are few in number which has continued to trend as there are few contemporary photos taken here as compared to other locations.

This 1921 Sanborn Fire Insurance map focuses on the central area of this treatise. Depicted in this map are the Concord station, Cabarrus Cotton Mill, and the Southern Railway freight station as each was laid out.
This 1921 Sanborn Fire Insurance map focuses on the central area of this treatise. Depicted in this map are the Concord station, Cabarrus Cotton Mill, and the Southern Railway freight station as each was laid out.

The railroad origins of Concord date to the antebellum period a decade before the onset of the Civil War. In 1848, the North Carolina Legislature passed a bill for the construction of a railroad connecting the coastal region of the state with the interior Piedmont. The following year, the North Carolina Railroad (NCRR) was chartered with the intent of constructing a 223 mile corridor between Goldsboro and Charlotte. On July 11, 1852, a groundbreaking ceremony was held in Greensboro and construction of the railroad began. Four years later, towns along the route, including Concord, witnessed the passage of the first train to traverse the length of the railroad in January 1856.

After the tumultuous Civil War years, the Richmond & Danville Railroad (R&D) signed an operational lease with the NCRR in 1871. This lease remained in effect until the R&D was acquired by the Southern Railway in 1894. Maps of Concord during this era are in existence and indicate the exact location of the first depot. However, there appears to be no photographs or artist renditions in the public domain to reveal the early appearance of this structure.

During the early 1890s, the Concord Railroad Company constructed a line from the depot area into the downtown district to serve the local businesses. Due to the topographical layout of Concord, the town is located on the heights above the railroad and the public sought improved efficiency for transport. Rather than walk or traverse these grades by horse and wagon, an inner city line was constructed to alleviate these concerns. Designed as a “steam” line and dubbed the “Dummy Line”, this street track diverged from the Richmond and Danville main line and ran on Corban Avenue until reaching the business district at Union Street. Here, it turned west and split numerous times with spurs to serve the local proprietors. Within a few years, it was extended further north on Union Street and to the Gibson Mills plant at present day McGill Avenue. In spite of these efforts, the “Dummy Line” was plagued with problems, most notably pertaining to reliability issues. Concord was among the first urban areas in the United States to utilize battery powered street cars and their usage on this route was generally unsuccessful. The battery life was short and passengers frequently assisted by pushing these cars. By the end of the century, the “Dummy Line” was history and Concord constructed a true streetcar system which partially utilized this former route.

An 1892 Sanborn map highlighting old downtown Concord which reveals the route of the “Dummy Line”. Route connected the Southern Railway station with the business district on Union Street.
An 1892 Sanborn map highlighting old downtown Concord reveals the route of the “Dummy Line” which connected the Southern Railway station with the business district on Union Street.

By 1892, a Sanborn Fire Insurance map indicates that a small wooden passenger station existed on the west side of the now Southern Railway main line opposite the freight depot and cotton platform on the east side. A separate smaller structure was located adjacent to it. Perhaps this was also the location for the original station as well—structurally repaired as needed but oddly located opposite the town district side of the railroad. It was also during this era that the Cabarrus Cotton Mills was constructed opposite the station on the same side of the tracks as the freight depot.

At the turn of the century, a new passenger station was constructed on the east side of the railroad by the Corban Avenue grade crossing south of the freight depot. This structure was also of wood construction and included a separate baggage office. The life span of this station was through the first decade of the 1900s until 1913. It was that year that a new passenger station would be constructed serving Concord until the 1970s.

A view of the less seen south end of the passenger station as it appeared during the 1960s. The bridge in the distance is Cabarrus Avenue and the freight depot---now gone-- was on the immediate opposite side. Image Concord Public Library/Independent Tribune
A view of the less seen south end of the passenger station as it appeared during the 1960s. The bridge in the distance is Cabarrus Avenue and the freight depot, now gone, was on the immediate opposite side. Image Concord Public Library/Independent Tribune

Construction began on the larger station several hundred feet south of the existing depot. The location, in effect, sandwiched the new site between the Southern Railway main line and the Cabarrus Cotton Mills. This new station, built with brick and trimmed in wood, was resplendent in the Victorian influence of the era. Solid and attractively designed, it became the railroad centerpiece for Concord during the halcyon years before the end of passenger service. The World War II years in Concord, as in countless other stations throughout the nation, proved a bright but brief zenith of the passenger train in full glory. As an example, in 1941, fourteen trains still called at Concord. Name trains such as the Piedmont Limited #33 and #34, the Peach Queen #29 and #30, and regionals such as #11 and #12, the Danville, VA – Greenville, SC, all stopped at Concord.

Before: Looking south from the Cabarrus Avenue bridge area at the passenger station and the Cabarrus Cotton Mills building as it was in January 1974. By this date, the station was a silent symbol of a bygone era. Image Concord Public Library/Independent Tribune
Before: Looking south from the Cabarrus Avenue bridge area at the passenger station and the Cabarrus Cotton Mills building as it was in January 1974. By this date, the station was a silent symbol of a bygone era. Image Concord Public Library/Independent Tribune
After: Four decades later, a similar view of the station area. Amtrak #76 passes in ironic vigil where whence passenger trains stopped. Image Dan Robie 2016
After: Four decades later, a similar view of the station area. Amtrak #76 passes in ironic vigil where once passenger trains stopped. Image Dan Robie – 2016

In the postwar years, as passengers left the rails in mass exodus, trains were either combined or abolished. Examples affecting the patronage at Concord included combining service from two trains into Southern’s flagship Crescent Limited. The southbound Aiken-Augusta Special was absorbed into the Crescent in 1956 and the northbound Peach Queen several years later in 1964. Further cutbacks would ensue as the passenger base eroded and services were discontinued. In 1971, what remained of the national passenger network was forged into Amtrak but the Southern Railway remained a stalwart by continuing to provide its own service that would continue through the 1970s.

 In March 1974, a northbound Southern Railway manifest derailed in proximity to the passenger station. As evidenced in this image, cars were scattered and the structure received damage to its front. Image William Teal/Independent Tribune.
In March 1974, a northbound Southern Railway manifest derailed in proximity to the passenger station. As evidenced in this image, cars were scattered and the structure received damage to its front. Image William Teal/Independent Tribune.

In March of 1974, northbound manifest train 158 was passing through Concord when a defective wheel on a freight car picked a switch causing a derailment. This resulted in a pile up at the station area and the building sustained damage to its south and west sides. The damage was repaired but by this date, the venerable old structure was nearing the end of its useful life. In 1976, came the coup de grace. Trains #1, the southbound Southern Crescent, and #5 and #6, the Piedmont, remained on the timetable but by the end of the year, the Piedmont was abolished. With the discontinuance of the Piedmont, Concord was eliminated as a passenger stop. The Southern Crescent existed for another three years until the Southern Railway turned over its passenger operations to Amtrak.

After 65 years of existence, the noble Concord passenger station faces its end. The date is March 28, 1978 and the structure will soon vanish beneath the bulldozer’s tread. Image Concord Public Library/Independent Tribune
After 65 years of existence, the noble Concord passenger station faces its end. The date is March 28, 1978 and the structure will soon vanish beneath the bulldozer’s tread. Image Concord Public Library/Independent Tribune
38 years after its demolition, remnants of the rear platform still exist. Rails of a spur that ran behind the structure remain in place. Image Dan Robie 2016
Thirty-eight years after its demolition, remnants of the rear platform still exist. Rails of a spur that ran behind the structure remain in place. Image Dan Robie – 2016

On March 28, 1978, an epoch ended. The noble Concord passenger station, standing in silent vigil to a bygone era, met its end. Demolition began on this date and as the bricks crumbled, the visible connection to passenger rail at Concord belonged to history. It is, in a sense ironic, as a regional passenger rail renaissance occurred the following decade. In 1984, a joint effort by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT)and AMTRAK resurrected the Piedmont train although it lasted but a year due to agreement conflicts. After a five year hiatus, service was resumed in 1990 and subsequently expanded in the 21st century. Today, eight passenger trains—the Crescent Limited and six Piedmonts— pass through Concord by the empty lot where its station once stood. With no structure to serve as a stop, Concord is now but a milepost location along the main line, nestled between the stops at Kannapolis and Charlotte. Whether a new station is constructed to restore Concord as a terminal may be a topic of future city discussion.”

Many an engineer looked at this cantilever signal as northbound trains departed Concord. It, too, will pass into history as evidenced by its replacement under construction. Dan Robie 2016
Many an engineer looked at this cantilever signal as northbound trains departed Concord. It, too, will pass into history as evidenced by its replacement under construction. Dan Robie – 2016

Dan RobiePhotographs and text Copyright 2016
See more of Dan’s work at his website WVNC Rails.