All aboard for fun: Central prepares to celebrate railroad heritage

CENTRAL — Quaint and quiet, nestled on the outskirts of Clemson, is the town of Central. While it might be unassuming, Central has an incredibly rich history and heritage linked to the railroad tracks that run through the heart of its town.
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.
Central received its name because the town is located at the midway point, approximately 133 miles each way on the main railroad line, between Atlanta and Charlotte. The town came to life and grew up because of the railroad company’s investment in maintenance and activities in Central.
Because it was a natural stopping place, a train depot and houses for those working the railroad were erected in Central. Stores were constructed to provide supplies and food for the people living there.
Central, being the point where railroad engines stopped for refueling and changing, also built shops for the railway workers. Engineers, conductors, and telegraph operators brought their families to Central and, finding the refreshing climate and friendly people to their liking, built homes and settled down.
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 was destined to see 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. 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.”
In 1903, local pioneer businessmen, looking for employment opportunities, organized Issaqueena Mill. After this, T. M. Norris, president of Norris Cotton Mill, moved to Central and became an integral part of the community. The Wesleyan College (Southern Wesleyan University) began classes in the fall of 1906 and brought in new people. Central High School moved into its new quarters in the brick building on Church Street in September 1909.
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 28, will mark the fourth 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.
Entertainment stages will spotlight the talents of the Southern Weslyan University Jazz Band; local singer, songwriter and musician Tony Tidwell; and coming all the way from Louisana, Elvis impersonator Randy “Elvis” Bonnevall. The day’s entertainment will wrap up with a performance by The Flying Saucers — a 1955-65 band playing a variety of oldies favorites.
On the stage specifically geared toward kids’ entertainment are the award-winning Hot Foot Cloggers from Six Mile, performances from talented dancers at Pickens’ La Dance Studio, and several shows featuring the Music and Magic of Wendall.
Always featured at the Central Railroad Festival is the CAT Bus System that allows festival-goers to park in more remote areas and be shuttled to the heart of the celebration. This eliminates traffic congestion and the parking nightmares associated with so many festivals.
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.
Norfolk Southern Railroad will have a simulator allowing people to experience the thrill of operating one of their train engines just like an engineer. The Central Caboose will be open for exploration and photo opportunities.
The Central Railroad 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 Central Railroad 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.