All aboard for fun

Central prepares to celebrate railroad heritage

By Nicole Daughhetee

Courier Staff

After graduating from Clemson and securing a teaching position in the English department, I rented a little house in Central for several years. What I loved about Central was that it provided me with an easy commute to Clemson and offered me the peaceful serenity that life in a college town does not notoriously boast.

To reach my house on Mountain View Drive, I had to make a left off of Highway 93 and go underneath the train trestle and up a hill. I can’t count how many times I drove underneath or over those tracks — depending on how I chose to add variety to my daily commuter routes — without ever realizing the incredibly rich history and heritage they weaved into the town through which they ran.

In honor of the cherished tie that binds Central’s past to the future, members of the Central Model Railway and Historical Association, the Central Heritage Society, the Town of Central and its local businesses, have designed the Central Railroad Festival so that residents of Central and Pickens County, in addition to tourists and visitors, can celebrate the abundant history and heritage that defines Central.

The village had its beginnings in 1873, when the Atlantic and Richmond Air-Line Railroad Company completed a track running through Pickens County. Because it was midway between Atlanta and Charlotte, about 133 miles each way, the Railway Company decided to set up its shops there, and the place was called Central.

A depot and houses were erected for those who worked on the railroad. Stores were erected to provide supplies and food for the people. Shops for the railway workers were built, for this was to be the Terminal where engines refueled and changed. Engineers, conductors, telegraph operators brought their families and, finding the refreshing climate and friendly people to their liking, built homes and settled down.

On the north bank of the railroad track in the middle of the town, a long platform was erected for the coal chute where big, heavy dump carts were kept loaded with black shiny coal. At the end of the coal was a great tank of water that seemed to be always overflowing.

Branching off the right of the track toward the textile mill was the “Y” for turntable, where engines changed. Just below the tank, across from a large grove of trees, a long rambling hotel was built to become quite famous up and down the line. The hotel served not only for an eating-house, but also for telegraph operators, dispatchers, ticket office, waiting room, and a sample room for drummers to display their lines for the inspection of local merchants. The famous old building burned in 1936.

According to the Central Heritage Society, Central was incorporated as a town on March 17, 1875, by an Act of the South Carolina Legislature; however the town saw a great change take place in the year 1897, when the Southern Railway moved its headquarters from Central to Greenville.

“The first trainload of cars pulled out Sunday, July 4, 1897, leaving a dazed group of citizens,” reads a passage on the heritage society website. “All shops and all offices were closed. The trains no longer stopped to change engines. Families that had built their homes and settled down were uprooted. Houses were vacant and business was at a standstill.”

The town eventually made a recovery from the loss of the railway headquarters, but quaint and quiet, nestled on the outskirts of Clemson, the unassuming town of Central has an incredibly rich history and heritage linked to the railroad tracks that run through the heart of its town.

This is merely a brief glimpse into the history and heritage that has been preserved in the Town of Central, and the Central Railroad Festival is an amazing opportunity to learn more, to experience these history lessons and to share a day with family enjoying lots of fun, entertainment and great food.

Saturday, April 27, will mark the fifth anniversary of the Central Railroad Festival. What has made this particular festival a success that continues to grow is a focus on family and wholesome fun.

Beginning at 10 a.m. and chugging on until 6 p.m., the Central Railroad Festival boasts activities that everyone in the family will enjoy. The greatest selling point of the festival is that, with the exception of paying the food vendors, everything at the Railroad Festival is free.

The Festival’s Main Entertainment Stage will open the celebratory day with performances by the SWU Jazz Band (10-11 a.m.); National Banjo Champion Charles Wood will be spotlighted from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; and local singer, songwriter and musician Tony Tidwell will play his set from 2:30-4 p.m. The day’s entertainment will wrap up with a performance by The Flying Saucers — a 1960’s band — playing a variety of oldies favorites.

A separate stage specifically devoted to younger festival-goers will feature performances by the R U Safe Clowns at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.; Ziggy’s Music and Magic Show at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.; and returning again this year are the Hot Foot Cloggers who will dance their hearts out at 1:45 a.m., 1:45 p.m. and 3:45 p.m.

Always featured at the Central Railroad Festival is the CAT Bus System, which allows festival-goers to park in more remote areas and be shuttled to the heart of the celebration.

Festival attendees will be able to park at Central Town Hall, Duckett-Robinson Funeral Home, Cannon Memorial Baptist Church and New Life Baptist Church. Folks can leave their cars safely parked while they receive a hassle-free and fare-free ride to the Railroad Festival.

CAT buses will also shuttle folks interested in touring a variety of historic sites, including the Central Railway Museum, the Central Heritage Museum and the 1920s-era Collins Ole Towne. Patrons also have the option of a self-guided one mile historic walking tour.

The festival would not be complete without art and craft vendors displaying their handiwork for sale or a host of fair food vendors selling their culinary delights. In addition to hot dogs and barbecue, Central’s downtown restaurants — Pancho’s Mexican Restaurant, the Red Minnow, Hachi Express Japanese Grill and the Mainstreet Deli and Coffee House — will all be open and cater to a variety of appetites.

With the exception of edibles, everything at the festival is free and has been designed for families to have fun.

There are tons of games and activities for children. The Central Express Tractor Train Ride will be operating during the entire event. Inflatables and bounce houses provide hours of jumping fun. Function Junction will have Thomas the Train and other electric trains for kids to operate and experience. Lowes will also be on-site with Build and Grow projects for the kids to make and take home.

The Central Railroad Festival is not only a celebration of the history and heritage of Central; it is also a celebration for families to spend time with one another having good old-fashioned fun. There is entertainment and activities for all age groups, great food, history, heritage, parking with shuttle service and, the best part of all, admission and activities are free.

Ken Paynter, who is heading up the RR Festival as chairman this year after serving on the committee for the past four years, is excited to be part of such a unique series of events and the celebration of Central, which has a history so deeply rooted in the railroad.

“The atmosphere of the railroad is so unique to the town of Central,” Paynter said. “There is no other town on the map with such a unique flavor running through it.

“The festival keeps growing year after year, and our reputation continue to spread. The Railroad Festival is so family friendly — there are things for everyone to see and enjoy — and it is all free.”