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(rshsdepot) Salisbury, NC
Rowan's railway history boosted
Smithsonian to include Salisbury, Spencer in exhibit debuting this fall
HOWIE PAUL HARTNETT
Staff Writer - The Charlotte Observer
Hardly a soul who traveled the Southern Railway during the first part of the
20th century didn't stop in Salisbury or pass through Spencer.
The two Rowan County towns were the Charlotte/Douglas International Airport
of their day -- serving as the gateway among north, south and all points in
Despite this storied lineage, few people outside of locals and
transportation buffs know the area's history.
But that's about to change.
The two towns are part of an upcoming exhibition at the Smithsonian National
Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. "America on the Move" will
debut in November as part of a massive overhaul of the museum's displays.
The exhibition will cover nearly 26,000 square feet of the museum's first
floor, replacing the old Road Transportation, Railroad and Civil Engineering
Halls. The new show will have 13 period settings featuring more than 300
Among them are the steam-powered locomotive "Jupiter" built in 1876 for the
Santa Cruz Railroad, a section of Route 66 pavement laid in 1932 in
Oklahoma, a 1975 California Highway Patrol Kawasaki motorcycle and the
Built in 1926, the 200-ton steam behemoth pulled passenger trains at up to
80 mph on the Southern Railway's Charlotte Division, between Salisbury and
Greenville, S.C. The 1401 earned acclaim in 1945 when it pulled President
Franklin Roosevelt's funeral train on part of its journey to Washington.
The Smithsonian has housed the 1401 since 1962 when it was donated by the
railway. In fact, the east end of the museum was built around the
Having the 1401 made the choice to highlight Salisbury and Spencer easy for
museum historians. The area's history and the 1401's association with it
gave the Smithsonian a great opportunity to talk about how the train worked
in that era, said Janet Davidson, a project historian.
"Making exhibits is a funny process of choice and luck," she said. "(Plus),
one of the things we wanted to have was a geographical range of places."
Visitors will start the chronological exhibit in Santa Cruz, Calif., in
1876. On their journey to 1999, they will stop in D.C., Wyoming, New York,
Maine, Oregon and Illinois among other places.
Not all the details of the Salisbury setting are complete yet, but museum
officials say it will include a facade of the old train station and a scene
from Spencer Shops -- where trains were serviced and repaired.
"They're still calling us," said Larry Neal, a manager at the N.C.
Transportation Museum in Spencer, where the 1401 was maintained. "We're
sending some of our artifacts to them."
Mostly, state museum officials sent steam engine shop tools for the Spencer
Inside the station, visitors will see photographs of the area in the 1920s
and '30s and learn how important rail was to everyday living.
"We talk about how you would get a package at the train station," Davidson
said. "For many people in this country it's astounding to think that people
used to travel by rail."
Also in the station visitors will hear what it was like to ride the rails
from two different perspectives -- that of a textile salesman and a black
A mannequin of early 20th century educator Charlotte Hawkins Brown will tell
visitors of the time she was thrown off a train by young white men.
"What that allows us to do is not have to editorialize on Jim Crow
(segregation) laws," curator of transportation Bill Withuhn said. "We just
let her tell her story herself."
A voice for Brown hasn't been cast yet, but everything will be in place when
the exhibition opens its doors Nov. 19.
The opening will culminate three years of work on the exhibit and a 20-year
campaign by Withuhn to update the transportation wing.
The $22 million exhibition is expected to have a 20-year life. That's a lot
of publicity that local officials hope will translate into tourism.
"It really is exciting to our city and county," Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz
said. "The railroad has been such an important part of the city."
The timing of the exhibit couldn't be better, Kluttz said. The city is in
the midst of redeveloping its downtown to capitalize on the city's history
and tourism. So far, the area around the train depot has seen nearly $20
million in redevelopment.
Officials hope the Smithsonian exhibit, hopefully, will keep up that
momentum, Kluttz said.
"We really see tourism as being something that will be a boost to our
economy," she said.
The Railroad Station Historical Society maintains a database of existing
railroad structures at: http://www.rrshs.org