A few homes scattered among the pine trees on the banks of a clear pure stream called Marks Creek was called Sandhills. Nestled deep in the North Carolina Sandhills, Hamlet was founded in the late 1800’s when an Englishman named John Shortridge established a woolen and saw mill along Marks Creek. In 1870, a railroad running from Wilmington passed through Hamlet to the Pee Dee River where it connected to a line leading to Charlotte. A railroad was being built from Raleigh to Augusta, GA., and it was through the influence of the early settler that the track was laid through Hamlet. Tradition says that Mr. Shortbridge in 1873, in a conversation with three of his friends, L.L. McKinnon, Thomas Steel, and Elisha “Champ” Terry, told them that in his native England a small cluster of houses were called a hamlet. Thus the town was named Hamlet, and to commemorate the naming of the town, the men planted a sycamore tree which stood until 1946 when it was cut down to make way for a building. Incorporated in 1897, Hamlet grew as railroad workers settled in the town, and businesses prospered as trains on the New York to Florida run brought weary and hungry passengers to Hamlet. By 1936 Hamlet was dubbed the “Hub of the Seaboard” with five Seaboard Railroad line leading out of Hamlet and about thirty passenger trains leaving each day.
The Railroad Passenger Station (circa 1895), visible from the train tracks, is registered as a Historic Landmark and is said to be the most photographed station in the eastern United States.
The Railroad industry continues to play an important role in Hamlet. Many freight trains come through Hamlet for maintenance at the CSX Transportation (formerly Seaboard Systems Railroad) Maintenance Shop. The availability of railroad facilities, a perfect climate and an energetic work force has attracted numerous industries to this city of 6,704 residents. The industries include: CSX Transportation, Health Management Associates, Alpha Plastics, Southern Bags, Trane Air Handling Systems, Bunker Industries, Owens-Illinois, Novel Pharmaceuticals, CorTek, and Resource Recycling. Despite its growth, Hamlet is committed to preserving its past.
Hamlet businessmen have renovated the birthplace of John Coltrane, (1926-1967), a famous jazz musician and composer.
The citizens of Hamlet also host the Annual Seaboard Festival Day on the fourth Saturday in October. The festival features arts and crafts, live entertainment, railroad car displays and lots of mouth watering southern cooking. The railroad history of Hamlet is the theme of store window decorations and many craftsmen tie the railroad theme into their craft items. The festival attracts over 80 craftsmen from around North and South Carolina with the number of participants and crowds growing each year.
Perhaps the remembrance of the past and looking towards the future is what keeps this thriving “Hamlet” on the right track, but one only has to pay a brief visit to recognize our greatest of all assets - our people!