The Historic Hendersonville Railroad Station
The current structure that you see is actually the second station that was built to house the Hendersonville Railroad Station. The first station was built shortly after the Southern Railway reached Hendersonville as a broad gauge line late in June 1879. This was ten years after Coast-to-Coast service was established through Ogden Utah. The first station for all practical purposes was a duplicate of the Saluda station which still stands in that village. By 1902 the station proved to be too small to handle the ever increasing traffic and was moved across the tracks, north of 7th Avenue where it was used as a freight house for many years.
The present station was started in 1902. Originally it was 87 feet long and consisted of two waiting rooms (a white and a black), an Agents Office, indoor plumbing, and a freight or Railway Express Office. The total cost of construction was $2613.00 which included three coats of heavy oil-based paint. In 1906 15’ feet was added to each end of the station to provide a (white-only) Ladies waiting room, and more baggage handling space. A few years later an open pavilion was added to the North end of the station to provide an additional covered waiting area. This addition was still not enough to handle the crowds of customers. On some Saturday mornings, especially during the summer, between 500-600 young campers waited for the train to come up the Saluda Grade for their return trip home. When the train arrived it would disgorge approximately another 500-600 young campers for the next camping session.
In 1916 another 50 feet was added to the roofed over, open pavilion waiting area making it 75 feet long and reaching all the way to 7th Avenue. Soon after the last passenger service ended in 1968, this open pavilion became the unofficial unemployment office for the City of Hendersonville. Men would stand and wait under this pavilion for farmers, builders, and other employers to drive by and hire several men for a days work. Over time this practice became a problem for the City and the pavilion was sawed off and removed in 1972 to end this public nuisance.
In its heyday, a 22,000 gallon water tank stood on the other side of the tracks with underground pipes to two stand pipes in between Track #1 and #2, just far enough apart for two Mikado steam locomotives to be serviced at the same time. At its peak, six passenger trains a day stopped in Hendersonville collecting and discharging passengers for our City, while making their way from as far away places as Cincinnati and Charleston.
This section of track is still claimed to be the steepest Class #1 railroad in the United States at the 600’ elevation in less than 3 miles between Saluda and Melrose. While passenger service ended in 1968, thousands of tons of freight, particularly coal and wood chips, traveled over these tracks and through the Hendersonville station with as many as 6-7 trains a day up until 2002. At that time the then current owners, Norfolk Southern Railroad (NS), elected to re-route trains South by selecting different routes thereby by-passing Hendersonville. In 2014, the tracks from just south of Asheville to East Flat Rock and to Brevard were sold to Blue Ridge Southern Railroad (a subsidiary of WATCO) which runs deliveries to area industries and stores rail cars south of Hendersonville. Occasionally, the station provides a view of those freight trains and a nostalgic reminder of the hustle and bustle of years gone by.
In the late 1980s, NS planned to demolish the building. The Hendersonville Parks Department and local citizens were determined to save and restore it. With grants, donations, fund raisers and a lot of volunteer help, the building was cleaned, scraped, had damaged wood replaced and was considerably improved. In 1992 the Apple Valley Model Railroad club received permission from the City of Hendersonville to move into the station. By then, the building was in rough shape but through the efforts of the City and the Club members the station was completely redone in the original colors of the station and many significant improvements were made to both stabilize the structure and enhance its functional use as an attraction for the City in promoting tourism.
Today the station houses the Apple Valley Model Railroad Club and its large HO Model train layout, an outdoor G Scale layout and numerous railroad artifacts on the walls and in display cases. The 7th Avenue Business Association occasionally holds meetings in the North end of the station. Other organizations in the city may also use the meeting area.
The station now belongs to the City of Hendersonville who maintains the building. In 2000, the building was registered by the North Carolina Historical Society as a Historical Landmark commemorating its long and useful history in serving the public and residents of Henderson County.
(Updated 6/19 by J. Pezzano)