All aboard for fun!

Central prepares to celebrate

its Railroad Heritage

The whistles will be blowing as the annual Central Railroad festival takes off April 26 at 10 a.m.

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 year’s festivities will actually begin early on the morning of April 26 with the Central Elementary 5K run, Keep It Movin’. The event supports the Keep it Movin’ run/walk program that exists at Central Elementary, a Title I school, that affords more than 100 students the opportunity to walk or run before the start of school, along with earning incentives. Winners will be recognized at the festival.

The festival will begin at 10 a.m. and run until 6 p.m., featuring entertainment, food, music and arts and crafts vendors.

The Southern Wesleyan Jazz Band will kick off the music on the festival’s main stage, performing in the opening ceremony from 10-11 a.m.

An Elvis impersonator will take the stage to pay tribute to the King of Rock and Roll from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and again to close the festival from 5-6 p.m.

In addition, the Flying Saucers, a 1960s tribute band, are set to perform from 1-2:30 p.m., and local singer/songwriter Tony Tidwell will play from 3-4:30 p.m.

There will also be plenty of activity strictly for the kids, including face painting, the Lowe’s Make It and Take It craft area and Ziggy’s Music and Magic show.

In addition, the Central Fire Department will have its engines on display.

La Dance Studios the Hot Foot Cloggers will also entertain the crowds.

Also featured will be live steam engines. The Central Water Department will also have a special display at the festival.

The Central Railway Museum, which features a large HO-scale model railroad layout complete with cities, towns and features found in the region more than a half-century ago, will also be open for visitors The museum also houses a Heritage Room, featuring classic model trains popular in the mid-20th century. Also, there will be a tour of the Central red caboose.

Central restaurants will be open on the day of the festival, offering options ranging from international cuisine such as Mexican and Japanese to coffee house and deli specialties, as well as seafood. Street vendors will also cater to a variety of tastes, offering pizza, hot dogs, barbecue, nachos, corn dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches, funnel cakes, chicken wings, crab cakes, Italian ice, kettle corn, fried Oreos and more treats.

Clemson Area Transit buses will run continuously, taking festival-goers from parking areas.

Admission to the festival is free, and convenient parking is available.

The Central Railroad Festival is sponsored by the Central Area Business Council and the Clemson Area Chamber of Commerce. The festival is supported by the Town of Central and the Central Railway Museum.

“The atmosphere of the railroad is so unique to the town of Central,” Paynter said prior to last year’s festival. “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 continues to spread. The Railroad Festival is so family friendly — there are things for everyone to see and enjoy — and it is all free.”