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WHY HUB CITY?

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.

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