Friday, January 16, 2015

Railroad Depots Along the Way to New Orleans...

It’s been awhile since we hit the road and I had the opportunity to find and photograph some old railroad depots.  Actually, Laurie takes most of the pictures once we find the depots…

This is the entrance to the grounds of the Depot Museum in Fort Payne Alabama.  It is not, as one might expect, a railroad museum.  Instead, the depot and another building contain extensive examples of Native American basketry, pottery, and artifacts plus memorabilia from the Civil War, World War I and II, as well as the Vietnam War.   There is also a collection of dioramas plus antique furniture, books, antique pictures and many other artifacts.  Admission is just $3.00 for adults and $1.00 for students.  To learn more, go to

In addition to the depot itself, the railroad ‘relic’ on exhibit is a caboose.  Cabooses became obsolete when computer systems became capable of absorbing the duties of safe train functions by the addition of electronic trackside detectors.  This particular caboose was designed for local and yard service only so it’s a bit unusual.  It has a potbelly stove, ice box, a toilet, sink and a water tank.  There also is a small table on which the employees did paperwork and ate their meals.

The Fort Payne Railway Depot was built in 1891.  This outstanding and unusual Richardsonian Romanesque building was constructed using locally quarried pink and white sandstone.  It served as a depot for the Alabama-Great Southern Railroad for about 85 years.  When the Norfolk-Southern Railway announced plans to dismantle the depot back in 1985, a group of preservation-minded citizens bought the property. 

The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places 100 years after it was built. 

Originally the town was the site of a major Cherokee village and for a time it served as the home of Sequoyah, who invented the Cherokee’s written language.  Then US Army Major John Payne built a fort here to intern the Cherokee until they could begin the forced march to Oklahoma…”The Trail of Tears”. 

Circa 1889 – 1891, the town of Fort Payne underwent a major industrial boom based on the promotion of the coal and iron ore in the area…and the resulting speculation by investors.  The depot and nearby structures comprise the “Boomtown Historic District’.  At the turn of the 21st century, about 7,000 persons were employed in local mills manufacturing socks. (Almost half of US production) Since then, Chinese imports have drastically reduced output.  The town currently has a population of roughly 14,000.  

We love to see railroad depots that have been repurposed after the railroads ceased service.  This depot now serves as the City Hall for Livingston Alabama.  This very old Southern Railway depot was originally built around 1850 to serve the passenger and freight services of the railroad system running between Atlanta, Birmingham, and New Orleans.  The left side of the building was used for freight and the right side for passengers.
Livingston was incorporated at about the time that Andrew Jackson was inaugurated as President!  As green as this area of Alabama is, available water was a serious problem for settlers in the early days.  The town was settled next to a spring…and in the latter part of the 19th century Livingston became widely known as a health spa because of the water from its unique Bored Well.  This well was bored by an old blind mule which pulled an auger around and around until an artesian well was hit in 1857.  A pavilion covers the well in courthouse square today.

Today, the town of Livingston has a population of about 3,300 residents.  It is also the home of the University of Western Alabama with its 5,200 students.  There are several historic buildings and sites in Livingston which we’ll try to check out on a future trip.

This is the front of the 101 year old (but busy) railroad depot in Laurel Mississippi.  This passenger station was originally built in 1913 by the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad, which in turn was acquired in by the Southern Railroad in 1916. 

This is a trackside view of Laurel’s depot.  What!!  Who are those people sitting on the bench?  Can it be…? Yes, they are ‘passengers’ waiting for the “Crescent” passenger train that runs from New Orleans to New York City.

The city of Laurel has a population of almost 19,000.  Located in the southeast region of Mississippi known as the Pine Belt, Laurel was established in 1882 and first flourished during the growth of the timber industry in that region.  In the early 20th century, oil and poultry replaced lumber as the main product of the area. The lumber industry in Laurel received a needed boost in 1924 when William Mason of Laurel invented a process for steam-pressing wood chips into sheets, now known worldwide as Masonite.  In 1942, oil was discovered in Laurel, and today there are more than 150 companies providing regional service for oil and gas drillers.

Laurel's depot is served by 2 Amtrak trains daily.  One traveler I talked to told me that he uses the train to commute to Birmingham Alabama a couple times a month for business.  He catches the early train to Birmingham and the late train back to Laurel and he can work on the train.

The city took over the depot from the Norfolk Southern Railway in 1994.  The structure was sound but the interior was significantly decayed.  The building was open to vandalism and it was an eyesore.  Restoration of this 1913 brick structure included functional redesign of the existing rooms and adding an Amtrak waiting area, replicating and repairing as many of the historic characteristics as possible.  The original terrazzo floor in the main room was restored, turn-of-the-century style light fixtures were installed, and the original wooden benches repaired. The building now serves as a depot but also as a community meeting place and event center for weddings, etc.  It was set up for a Christmas gathering when I peered inside the windows…

While I admit that I've seen much worse Amtrak facilities, I don’t know if this can be considered a ‘true living passenger depot’.  This is it…benches on either wall of this room and a few Amtrak schedules on the wall.  No ticketing or baggage services are offered…

Of course, even though it was just coming from New Orleans the train was about 40 minutes late… I hung in there though just because I haven’t seen very many Amtrak trains stopping for passengers in small town America.


·       Laurel has been the birthplace of several celebrities.  These include Lance Bass of the pop group NSYNC, actors Ray Walston and Parker Posey, and Olympic gold medalist Ralph Boston.  Laurel was also the childhood home of world-renowned opera legend Leontyne Price.

·       Laurel is also home to the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art.  It houses a significant art history library, as well as works by such noteworthy American artists as Winslow Homer, Albert Bierstadt, Frederick Kensett, John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt.  The Museum also houses a collection of fine European paintings, as well as 142 Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints from the 18th and 19th centuries.

This was the climactic moment with passengers actually boarding the train in Laurel Mississippi!  The first stop south of Laurel is Hattiesburg and the next stop north is Meridian Mississippi.  This depot actually served 5,264 passengers in 2013! 

That’s about it for now… Just click on any of the photos that you’d like to enlarge.

Thanks for stopping by and checking out some memories from the past!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. The Ft. Payne depot is something special and I cannot see why the RR would want to dismantle it - glad some folks stepped in the preserve it.

  2. The depot that is now city hall in Livingston, Alabama is my favorite. I could live there it's so attractive. The Romanesque depot reminds me a bit of Europe and the one in Laurel is very much like the depot in my hometown in Arkansas. Nice shots Laurie.