So I’m walking down to Krankie’s for my usual four shot latte, minding my own business, when somebody comes along and says “What is this?” Well, I don’t know, but I’m not about to admit that. So I take in the rusting chain link fence topped with barbed wire and the interior layout, which looks a lot like a parking lot, and say “It was a concentration camp for wayward cars.” “Oh, thanks,” they say, moving on.

Well, I have no idea what this is. But I know what it used to be, back before civilization collapsed. A little preview of coming attractions on the NC Room blog… local railroad history.

Once upon a time, say 1870, Winston and Salem were not on the railroad. In fact, there was not a single foot of railroad track in the whole county. So the locals were well on their way to being doomed to hicksville forever.

But thanks to the vision and determination of a few good men, that changed. And in February, 1873, a train came slowly across the Salem Creek trestle into Winston and a transformation began. It was the single most important event in the history of the Twin City.

This little triangle of rust and grass and gravel would, in 1903, become the center of that transformation. As the Winston-Salem Journal put it on Sunday, May 17, 1903:

“The dreams of years of the citizens of Winston-Salem is to be realized. A Union depot, a magnificent edifice is to adorn the entrance, by rail, to the city…That which a year ago existed only in the minds and hopes of the people is now a certainty. The old shed with the unsightly grounds…the makeshift for years, will soon disappear…and in their stead will stand the beautiful edifice as pictured above…brightened with verdant grasses and the music of a sparkling fountain…”


This is the drawing that the Journal was referring to. The new Union depot was designed by the famous southern architect Franklin Pierce Milburn. He designed so many railroad depots that his office was a special car on the Southern Railway, constantly moving from one site to another. But he was not a one trick pony. He designed the magnificent Buncombe County courthouse, still standing in Asheville today. And the second Forsyth County courthouse. In fact, at one time, we had seven of his buildings in the Twin City, the first being Lampson Hall at the Slater Industrial School, now Winston-Salem State University. Today we have only two left, the original Wachovia Bank & Trust building at the corner of Third and Main Streets, and the home of plumbing contractor L. B. Brickenstein, moved from its original Main Street site to the Salem Bypass.


The Journal also published this plan, showing how the new depot would fit into its surroundings. The fountain was a crucial part of the design, because it would say to arriving passengers that Winston-Salem was a classy place.


The 1903 depot in finished form

This is merely a preview. The whole story will be delivered in multiple parts…how the railroad transformed a couple of backwoods towns into the most populous and dynamic city in North Carolina. Watch for it.

Meanwhile, development minded people…tasteful ones we hope…should be thinking about that little triangle…