Skip to content


December 10, 2017

A health conscious businesswoman visited the gym to exercise as a part of her regular routine.   She finished her daily workout by jogging several miles. In the winter months her running was done on a treadmill. One December morning the treadmill she was using went berserk. The control buttons, ordinarily used to slow and then stop the machine, were unresponsive. Instead of slowing down, the treadmill went faster. Frantically the woman punched the control panel, but to no avail. Her heart pounding, her breathing labored, she finally decided she would have to jump.  Sprinting at a flat-out pace, she took a desperate leap of faith and fear. Though she was able to escape the renegade contraption, she landed hard on the concrete floor, fracturing her right wrist. She spent the holidays in a cast up to her elbow.

Something similar happens to many of us during the holidays. We are hijacked, not by a treadmill run amuck, but by the frenetic pace of activities. The Christmas rush begins the day after Thanksgiving and continues through New Year’s Day. Most of us fill our calendars with activities observing the holiday season.  Busy schedules and deadlines make us feel pushed and harried.  We are constantly reminded of the dwindling number of shopping days until Christmas Day.

A sign announcing the last day to mail packages in order to ensure arrival by Christmas is prominently displayed at the Post Office.  Family gatherings and social occasions, heaped on top of our regular responsibilities, leave us irritable and exhausted. Charitable events and faith group activities, though well-intentioned, add to the demands upon our time.

The choir director of a small church was frustrated and angry. At every rehearsal key members of the choir had been absent for one reason or another. Weary of their excuses, the director scolded the group for their lack of commitment.

Then the director complimented the pianist, “She’s the only one I have been able to count on. She has been here for every rehearsal.”

The pianist responded, “It was the least I could do, especially since I can’t be here for the cantata on Sunday.”

This is exactly the problem so many of us have. We spend an inordinate amount of time, money, and energy preparing for the holiday season, but when the important occasions arrive we are unable to fully participate.

The holidays offer us many rich cultural opportunities. Every town has its own Christmas parade and display of Christmas lights.  Musical presentations abound, from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker to Handel’s Messiah, from school programs to choir cantatas. A difficult reality to grasp is that no matter how we may try, we cannot do everything.

Having been a pastor for fifty-two years, I have learned to give choir directors and ministers of music a wide berth during the holidays. I have also learned that when it comes to promoting busyness, there are few offenders more to blame than the local church.

As one weary soul said in late November, “Trying to find a free evening during the holidays is like trying to find a homegrown tomato in my vegetable garden in December.”

A major part of seasonal stress for many is increased financial anxiety. The day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year, has been dubbed Black Friday. The first workday following Thanksgiving is now called Cyber Monday, the busiest online shopping day of the year.  For many, overspending becomes the norm.  Credit card debt spins out of control as buying frenzies escalate and consume us, leaving many to struggle with an avalanche of bills come January.

“I hate Christmas,” one beleaguered husband and father said. “Every year my family spends so much that I am barely able to pay off the debt before the next Christmas. Then they do it all over again.”

A simple solution is to have a reasonable plan. Our holiday calendar needs to include time for family, personal reflection, rest, and relaxation, as well as activities that are selected, by priority, from our array of options.  Our holiday budget needs to allow for giving meaningful gifts to family and friends as well as charitable contributions.   Develop a plan that works for you and your family rather than allowing the expenditure of time and money to spin out of control like a renegade helicopter.

The holidays for Jill were always hectic.  She operated a catering business from her home. She had numerous parties and receptions on her calendar. There was more to do than she could squeeze into her schedule.

One year she decided to send her Christmas cards early.  Jill was the kind of person who kept meticulous records from year to year of cards sent and cards received.  She resolved to purge her list, striking from the list the name of any person who had failed to send her a card for the past two years.  She purchased the required number of cards and enough holiday stamps to mail them.  She added a brief greeting and her signature to each card before mailing them ahead of the postal deadline.

As Christmas approached, Jill received cards in her mail box nearly every day.  Much to her chagrin, several of the people she had purged from her extensive original list had sent cards to her this year.  One busy Friday, while out shopping for Christmas gifts at a stationery store, she picked up a box of twenty-five generic holiday cards. She felt compelled to send a card to every person from whom she had received one.  By Christmas Eve, she had mailed all but three of the additional cards to people previously expunged from her list.

A few days after Christmas, as Jill was paying her bills, she reached for one of the leftover generic cards, belatedly remembering that she had not even taken time to read the inside verse before she sent them.

She opened the card and read in dismay:  “This little card is just to say, your Christmas gift is on the way.”  Oops!

Rushing through Christmas can be costly.  Not only can we become overextended in time, energy, and money, but we may also become depleted emotionally and spiritually.

Many of our Christmas carols remind us that we need calmness in our souls. Silence, stillness, and peacefulness are important to our most beneficial observance of this season. Finding the quiet center is the way to enjoy the season and preserve our sanity.

The words of John Greenleaf Whittier may become our prayer:

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,

Forgive our foolish ways!

Reclothe us in our rightful mind,

In purer lives thy service find,

In deeper reverence praise.


Drop thy still dews of quietness,

Till all our strivings cease;

Take from our souls the strain and stress,

And let our ordered lives confess

The beauty of thy peace.



December 8, 2017

In our family, we have maintained the tradition of the Advent wreath. When our children were young, we displayed a wreath on a table in our foyer.  We had purchased the decoration when we lived in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It was a simple circle with four red candles around the perimeter. A tall dowel wrapped in red ribbon held a tiny paper Moravian star above a manger scene created entirely out of corn husk doll figures.

Each Sunday in Advent we gathered our five children around the wreath to light the next candle. One year, on the third Sunday of Advent, we lit the peace candle. We read a scripture passage from Isaiah about the promise of peace. We sang a Christmas carol. As I was offering the closing prayer, there shone a great light! Our Advent wreath with corn husk figures caught on fire!

Holy smoke!

I grabbed the flaming wreath and started for the front door. Clare shouted, “Throw it in the bathtub!”

I did as she said and turned on the shower.

The smoke alarm was blasting. Younger children were crying. Older ones were laughing. All of us were greatly relieved.

Before Christmas, we replaced the wreath and the star. Some of the figures were burned beyond recognition. A few were charred but still recognizable. To this day, we have a manger scene of corn husk figures. Several of them still carry the singes from the fire.

For many Christmas can be a very difficult time. Like the figures in the manger scene, in this season there are many who bear the scars of Christmas past. Those who have carried the burden of grief during the holidays or those who have spent Christmas in the hospital know all too well how difficult this season can be. Some have spent Christmas in prison. Many have spent Christmas away from home in military service.

It was in a world just like this one that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem. It was into this kind of hardship that Jesus was born, out back, in less than ideal circumstances.

During the Civil War Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of America’s most famous poets, wrote the words to a familiar Christmas carol

In 1843, Longfellow, already a widower, married Frances Appleton. They settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Henry and Fanny eventually had six children. Their life as a family was happy.

In 1861, Fanny Longfellow was melting sealing wax on an envelope when the long folds of her dress caught fire. Henry desperately tried to smother the flames with his own body. Henry was badly burned on his face, arms and hands. Fanny suffered much worse; she died the next morning.

Enduring Christmas without Fanny, Henry captured in his journal the sentiments so many have felt through the ages: “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.”

Two years later, in early December 1863, Henry received word that his oldest son, Charles, a lieutenant in the Union Army had been severely wounded. Although Charles would survive, his recovery at that time was uncertain.

Longfellow greeted that Christmas with a heavy heart. He’d lost his wife, his son had nearly died, and the country continued making war on itself.

The bells that Henry heard ringing that Christmas inspired him to write the poem that would eventually become a carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

Longfellow’s personal difficulties and the war give the words to the carol a deeper meaning.


I heard the bells on Christmas day

Their old familiar carols play

And wild and sweet the words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to men.


I thought how, as the day had come

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along the unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.”


The third verse takes on a much darker tone, reflecting Longfellow’s mood.


And in despair I bowed my head

‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said

‘For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.’


Even in his despair, the last verse of the carol gives reason for hope.


Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;

‘God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail

With peace on earth, good will to men.’


This Advent, the singed figures on our wreath and the words to Longfellow’s carol will be for me reminders of one of the most important themes of Christmas.

Peace is not the absence of conflict or difficulty.

Peace is a gift of grace to the human soul.


December 6, 2017

More than a century ago eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Sun. Her request was simple.

Dear Editor: I am eight years old.

Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in The Sun it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O’Hanlon

115 West Ninety-Fifth Street

New York, New York

The editor assigned veteran news reporter Francis Church to respond to the child’s question. A few days later an unsigned editorial appeared in the paper and has since become the most reprinted newspaper editorial of all time.

Because we have a nine-year old granddaughter named Virginia, Clare and I recently read the New York Sun editorial from 1897. Here is a portion of Church’s response to Virginia. The entire column is easily available on the internet.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

For Clare and me the newspaper column is a Christmas keepsake.

The closer we get to Christmas, the more I see of Santa. I see his likeness depicted on sweaters, neckties, and on billboards.  A favorite Christmas ditty declares that Santa is everywhere.

He sees you when you’re sleeping.

He knows when you’re awake.

He knows if you’ve been bad or good,

So be good for goodness’ sake.

Because he is so much a part of the holiday season, maybe we ought to know more about him.

The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas who was born late in the third century in the village of Patara, located in what is now Turkey. His wealthy parents died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young.

Following the ancient teaching to sell what you own and give to the poor, Nicholas used his entire inheritance to assist the poor, the sick, and the suffering. He became a beloved priest. Children knew him for his kindness.  He had a heart of compassion for all people, especially the needy.

Beyond historical facts, there are many legends about St. Nicholas. One tells about a man who was very poor.  The man had three daughters who were not eligible for marriage because they had no dowry.  The poor man could have sold his daughters into slavery, but he refused. They would be his responsibility all of their lives. The culture dictated – no dowry, no husband.

Nicholas heard of the man’s plight. Riding on his white horse, he passed the man’s humble home and threw three bags of gold coins into an open window to provide a dowry for each of the three daughters.  Stockings had been hung by the fireplace to dry.  One of the bags of coins fell into one of the stockings.  Thus developed the legend that St. Nicholas comes secretly to fill stockings.

Nicholas eventually became the Bishop of Myra. He dressed in the clothing of a bishop, wearing a red cap and a long, flowing red robe.  Following his death, he became St. Nicholas, canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.  The feast day of St. Nicholas is December 6.

Throughout much of the world, December 6 is the day that children expect gifts from St. Nicholas.  Typically, they put their shoes either outside the door or under the Christmas tree. The following morning, they find their shoes filled with candies, goodies, and small toys.

In France, St. Nicholas is Père Noël.  In England, he is simply Father Christmas.

The legend of St. Nicholas came to the United States through Dutch immigrants.  He was known as Sinter Claus, a derivative of St. Nicholas in the Dutch language.  In time, Sinter Claus became Santa Claus.  Santa Claus then is a continuation of a legendary fourth-century priest who cared about children and the poor.

In 1931, the Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta, Georgia, used Santa Claus in some of their advertising at Christmastime.  A commercial artist created an image that was based on the poem by Clement Moore entitled “The Night before Christmas.”  In the poem, the jolly old elf is described as smoking a pipe. He had a tummy that shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.

The priest who became St. Nicholas was a thin man who gave to the poor.  The commercialized Santa Claus became a fat, jolly symbol of overconsumption.

Several years before her death, my mother gave me a gift, a figurine that depicts Santa Claus kneeling at the manger.  With his hat off and his hands folded, he is bowing in prayer.  The imagery is appropriate because it removes Santa Claus from the center of Christmas.

At Christmas, the best response we can make is to give to other people, just as the original St. Nicholas did. In the true spirit of Christmas and the true spirit of St. Nicholas, we need to concentrate on the ones who are needy, the people who are poor

I believe in Santa Claus, but I also believe we need to recapture the original spirit of St. Nicholas.

Over the past twenty years, I have had a rare privilege. I have played the part of Santa Claus at various gatherings for the church family. The children presented a Christmas program. Then Santa Claus, yours truly, entered the Sanctuary with a hearty, “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

Santa sat in a chair, and told the original Christmas story.When the children heard the story from Santa Claus, it had a special effect on them.  When Santa bowed his head to pray, the children took note.

After the program, Santa lingered as the children crawled up on his knee to tell him what they wanted for Christmas.  Then Santa Claus asked, “Do you know what I want for Christmas?”  The children always looked surprised.  This was the first time they have ever heard Santa make a request of them.

“I want you and your family to remember that Christmas is the birthday of Jesus. For his birthday present, I want you do something kind for someone else.”

There are people who would like to do away with Santa Claus.

If we can recapture the original intent of the caring man known as St. Nicholas, we will rediscover a part of the real joy of Christmas.

I no longer play the part of Santa outside of our own family. But to our granddaughter, Virginia, and to all of our thirteen grandchildren, I say, “Yes, indeed there is a Santa Claus!” Then I share with them the story of Saint Nicholas, a lasting example of love and kindness, especially to children.


December 2, 2017

The season of Advent presents several challenges to a pastor. The first is to tell the old, old story to people who have heard it over and over again as well as to those for whom it is only vaguely familiar. The preaching task is to retain and restore the mystery and wonder of the original story. We have the responsibility of liberating Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the magi from confinement as stained glass icons in a cathedral window, freeing them to be real people again.

A second challenge is to remember that Christmas is a time of sharp emotional contrasts. Many people are happy and have little difficulty finding joy in the season, but December brings sadness to others. For those who are hurting, the coming of Christmas may be filled with dread, despair, bitterness, and anger. Some are freshly wounded; others carry deep scars from years gone by. For them, Christmas is anything but the season to be jolly.  They suffer while others celebrate.

In fifty-two years of pastoral ministry, I have learned that there is no better way to present the message of hope and love that is at the heart of Christmas than through stories that parallel and perhaps merge with the original story.

Long ago and much further away, a young woman was startled by the news that she was pregnant. She had not had the first inkling, nor had she any reason to believe she was with child. She had saved herself for marriage. The attendant, dressed all in white, was neither a nurse nor a physician. The messenger who broke the news was the archangel Gabriel. The young woman was Mary of Nazareth.

Advent is Mary’s time. It is a season of expectancy for the young mother who lives in anticipation. But all of us, men and women alike, share in this pregnancy. This is a time of preparation for the arrival of a child, the nativity of Jesus. As surely as a young couple makes ready to receive a new child, we, too, must be ready for this new arrival. This is the essence of the season of Advent for those of the Christian faith.

When Clare and I got married, we knew that we wanted to have children.

We prayed that God would give us a child when the time was right.  We became frustrated that God did not meet our schedule.  We went for medical help and were told that it was improbable that we would ever have a child biologically.  We pondered the possibility of adoption.  We were overjoyed when Clare became pregnant but very disappointed when three months later she had a miscarriage.  Again we were told that for us the possibility of having children was remote.  We began to explore the possibility of adoption more seriously.  After several months, Clare was again pregnant.  The second pregnancy lasted longer.  Our hearts were broken following a second miscarriage.  I was angry.  Clare was grieving.

On a walk into the woods with clenched fists and gritted teeth, I told God that I did not understand why some people had children they did not want and could care for, yet we could not have a child.

There was no flash of light, no audible voice, but a message came, clear as a bell, “Kirk, how can you expect to be a father until you learn to hurt?”

We initiated the long process of adoption with paperwork, home visits, and medical tests.  Within weeks before we were to receive our adopted child, we discovered that Clare was again pregnant.  The choice was difficult.  Should we terminate adoption and risk another disappointment?  Should we continue adoption proceedings with the possibility that we would have two infants just six months apart in age?  Our decision to terminate adoption was another grief for us.

Clare carried our child full term.  We were expecting our firstborn to arrive on December 18, 1970.  As these things often go, the anticipated date came and went, but still no baby.

As Christmas approached, Clare and I waited in Louisville, realizing that we would not be with either of our families for the holidays. We could not travel to New Orleans, where her parents resided, or to Spartanburg, where my family lived. We exchanged gifts with our families by mail.

Christmas Eve arrived; our child had not. We enjoyed dinner together in our home. Before midnight, we opened one gift each. Then we called both families to wish them Merry Christmas.

Just after we went to bed, Clare had her first contraction. Suddenly, we were wide awake! At 5:00 A.M. on Christmas morning, we were on the way to Norton Infirmary in downtown Louisville. A soft, light snow was falling, and the streets were empty as we drove through the dark.

At the hospital, I left Clare in labor and delivery and went to admissions to check her in as a patient. When I returned her contractions had stopped, and she was sound asleep. I waited. Then, about noon on Christmas Day she went into hard labor. We had taken Lamaze classes and thought we knew what to expect. In old cowboy movies, when a mother is giving birth, they send the husband out to boil water. Lamaze is something like that. It gives the father a coaching job to do while the mother works very hard.

At 3:26 P.M. on Christmas Day our first child, Michael Kirk Neely, was born. We were overjoyed. Finally, we had a baby, born on Christmas Day! Both sets of grandparents were elated when we telephoned to announce our son’s arrival.

The birth of a child is always a miracle.

The word Advent comes from Latin, meaning to come. Some Christian carols become prayers of anticipation: “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” and “Come, Thou Long-expected Jesus.”

The season of Advent begins on Sunday, December 3, 2017.  In a spiritual sense, all Christians are pregnant with anticipation.  Every year, we celebrate anew the birth of a child, not just any child, but the one born in Bethlehem.  To hold a newborn in your arms is a reminder of just how precious and fragile a life is.  To hold an infant in your arms on Christmas Day is a reminder that in the birth of Jesus, God made himself very vulnerable.

Each Christmas, we draw close to the manger and look into the face of this child.  Look closely.  Did you notice the resemblance?  According to the Christian tradition this baby is the spitting image of his Father.


November 19, 2017

Thanksgiving is the least commercialized of all of our holiday celebrations.  The fourth Thursday of November, for most of us, is a day to pause before the Friday identified as the busiest shopping day of the year.  The brief respite is a time for reflection, for gratitude, even for nostalgia.  One of my most important Thanksgiving memories is a Kentucky Thanksgiving with Bobby.

Bobby was fourteen years old, large for his age, but shy and withdrawn.  His severe acne, unkempt hair, broken front tooth, smudged glasses, and distant stare were external evidence of a troubled mind and a broken heart.

Bobby was a patient in the adolescent unit at Central State Hospital, a mental hospital in La Grange, Kentucky, where I worked as a chaplain.  Though Bobby was diagnosed as chronically depressed and borderline schizophrenic, he had moments when his intellectual functioning exceeded that of the hospital staff.  Bobby was one of the patients who prompted the comment, “The main difference between the staff and the patients in this hospital is that the patients get better.” Read more…


November 12, 2017

The name Hub City has popped up everywhere in our fair city. Many of us are familiar with Hub City Co-op, Hub City Farmers’ Market, and Hub City Writers Project. But there are many other enterprises that carry the name. Hub City Chicken and More, Hub City Delivery, Hub City Art and Design, Hub City Marketing, Hub City Tap House, Hub City Runners, Hub City Auto Glass, and Hub City Construction to name a few. But where did the name originate? I was recently reminded of the story behind the name.

Last Sunday afternoon, just after 2:00 P. M. a brightly painted train rumbled past our house. I had never before seen a train like this one. An internet search revealed that this was the Norfolk Southern Safety Train.

Norfolk Southern’s Operation Awareness and Response program was launched in 2015 in order to enhance working partnerships with local first responders by delivering classroom, web-based, and field training sessions to better equip them to deal with incidents involving hazardous materials and rail operations.

The Norfolk Southern Hazmat Safety Train is driven by a red, white, and black 2,000-horsepower, 273-ton locomotive in livery sporting the insignia of police, fire, and emergency services. It has two blue and red boxcars that have been converted into classrooms with a capacity for 30 people each, four yellow, red, and green tank cars to train first responders in various valves and fittings, and two 89-foot flatcars which transport intermodal containers.

Seeing this brightly painted train moving down the tracks behind our home was quite a Sunday afternoon sight. Our grandson Ben and I were very excited by the unusual train.

I have always been intrigued by the railroad. I can remember the Christmas when I got my first Lionel train set.  Several years later, my dad built an elaborate HO gauge model railroad layout in our basement. My greater interest, however, has always been in real locomotives pulling long lines of freight cars along the steel rails that crisscross our country.

I came by my fascination with trains honestly. My great-grandfather died in an accident while working as a flagman on the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railroad. On a curve on a mountain grade, he was thrown from the gondola on top of the caboose to the tracks below. The incident is shrouded in mystery.

After the Great Depression, my grandfather bought a strip of land that bordered on the Southern Railway Line from Spartanburg to Columbia. He built a lumber shed on one end of the land. On the other end he built a home for his family of nine children. In those days, a lumberyard required a railroad siding, since most building materials were transported by rail.

As a boy, I often visited my grandparents’ home; the very same house Clare and I live in now. The home had a screened sleeping porch. Before air conditioning, sleeping on the porch in the summer was cooler than sleeping inside the house. Often I chose to spend the night on the porch. Several trains, pulled by coal-burning steam locomotives, passed on the tracks behind the house during the night. In the morning, my grandmother would come to the porch with a washcloth and a bowl of warm soapy water. She scrubed the soot from my face and hands.

The lumberyard closed at 12:00 on Saturday. After our dinner was served at high noon, if my grandfather and I didn’t go fishing, Dad and I would go uptown, get a treat at Bluebird Ice Cream, and arrive at the Magnolia Street Depot a little before 2:00 P.M. That was the time when four passenger trains stopped in Spartanburg. It was a locomotive traffic jam.

The two Carolina Special trains, one from Cincinnati and the other from Charleston, met each other at 2:00 P.M. The two Piedmont Limited trains, one from New York and the other from New Orleans, met at the same hour. Four of the five available tracks were in use at the same time.  Many travelers made connections in Spartanburg. My dad and I just went to see the trains. Watching four steam-powered engines with passenger cars in tow arriving and departing within a matter of minutes was quite a show!

Spartanburg County has long been a locus of intersections. Several old Indian trails crossed the area east and west, north and south. Both the Catawba and the Cherokee tribes hunted this land.

Later those same trails became wagon roads traveled by pioneers. Near Roebuck, the intersection of Blackstock Road and the Old Georgia Road was a main crossroad.

United States Highways 176 and 29, and, more recently, Interstate 26 and Interstate 85 parallel those ancient Indian trails. Our area has long been a hub. However, it was the railroads that gave our town the nickname Hub City.

Spartanburg’s rail service began with a train from Union and Columbia in 1859.  In 1873 came the Atlanta & Charlotte Air Line, now the main line of the Norfolk Southern from Washington to Atlanta and points west.   With the completion of the Saluda Grade in 1885, Spartanburg was connected with Asheville. This route became the Southern Railway Line from Cincinnati via Spartanburg to Charleston.  Also in 1885, the Charleston & Western Carolina, which ran from Port Royal to Augusta, came to Spartanburg.

The Clinchfield Railroad is an engineering marvel. The rail runs from Elkhorn City, Kentucky, to Spartanburg, passing through more than 450 miles of mountains and fifty-four tunnels along the way.  In 1909, it reached its southern terminus of Spartanburg. The Clinchfield, primarily a coal-carrying line, had one passenger train daily from Elkhorn City. Because Spartanburg was the end of the line, it turned around at Drayton Avenue and backed all the way into the Magnolia Street station.

An electric railroad, the Piedmont & Northern, also came to Spartanburg in the winter of 1913-1914 from Greenwood, Anderson, and Greenville.

Just after the turn of the 20th century, much of Spartanburg’s activity centered around the Southern Station, built in 1904 at Magnolia Street.  The hub connections were completed with the construction of a railway tunnel along Memorial Drive. The tunnel goes under North Church Street, the Southern tracks, and Magnolia Street.

Some have reported that almost 90 trains stopped or passed through Spartanburg daily. The late Dr. Lewis P. Jones, a retired Professor in the History Department at Wofford College and an avid railroad buff, said, “People exaggerated the number of trains that came through Spartanburg.  Some folk counted one train as it arrived, and counted it again as another train when it departed ten minutes later.”

The Magnolia Street Depot fell into disrepair, and much of it was demolished in 1971.  The west end of the structure survived and now has been refurbished. It serves as a center of cultural activity and continues to be used as a railroad station.   Two Amtrak trains, still called the Southern Crescent, stop each day. Now, most rail traffic through Spartanburg is freight, carried by two railroads formed by multiple mergers, the Norfolk Southern line and CSX.

The Hub City nickname for Spartanburg took hold because of the trains.

Since the South Carolina Inland Port opened in Greer, South Carolina, in 2013, as many as eighteen trains and local shifters rumble down the rails by our house each day. Clare and I enjoy living by the tracks in the home built by my grandfather. Our grandchildren take delight in the trains as much as I do. I am glad to report that Hub City is alive and well.

This is a video of the old Southern 4501 steam engine.


November 5, 2017

This afternoon, just after 2:00 PM a brightly painted train rumbled past our house. I had never before seen a train like this one. An internet search revealed that this was the Norfolk Southern Safety Train.

Norfolk Southern’s Operation Awareness and Response program was launched in 2015 in order to enhance working partnerships with local first responders by delivering classroom, web-based, and field training sessions to better equip them to deal with incidents involving hazardous materials and rail operations.

The Norfolk Southern hazmat safety train is a 2,000-horsepower, 273-ton locomotive in livery sporting the insignia of police, fire, and emergency services. It has two boxcars which have been converted into classrooms with a capacity for 30 people, four styles of tank cars (DOT-105, DOT-111, DOT-112, and DOT-1) to train first responders in various car valves and fittings, and two 89-foot flatcars which transport intermodal containers.

Seeing this train moving down the tracks behind our home was quite a Sunday afternoon sight. Here is a brief video for those who missed it coming through Spartanburg.