History of Hamlet Passenger Depot
In 1870, a railroad ran from Wilmington to the Pee Dee River and on to Charlotte. In 1877, a railway was established running from Raleigh to Augusta. The crossroads of these two rails occurred at Hamlet and spurred population growth for this North Carolina town. Hamlet, incorporating on February 9, 1897, has always been a railroad town with five spurs radiating from the town to Richmond, Wilmington, Atlanta/Birmingham, Savannah/Charleston and Columbia.
To celebrate the importance of this hub for the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, an impressive train station was constructed around the turn of the century. The station was designed in a Victorian Queen Anne style that was popular with railroad architecture in the late 19th century. The long bracketed porches radiate around the corner entry tower that faces the railroad intersection, honoring the reason for its being. For years the train station served as both a passenger depot and a freight yard.
On November 29, 1954, Seaboard built a new automatic pump-retarder yard at Hamlet stretching three miles north of the depot. When it was new, this rail yard was claimed to be the most modern facility in the world with a capacity of 5,000 cars. The yard and the diesel shop cost approximately 8.5 million dollars. Altogether, there were 113 track totaling 70 miles in the terminal.The Hamlet yard also had a large diesel shop, a wheel shop and a freight car running repair facility. Hamlet was the busiest point in the Seaboard system. In 1965, it was dispatching 13 through freight trains a day in addition to locals and extras.
Originally, Railroad Depots resembled other public buildings, often with the railroad ticket offices being located at stagecoach stops or in hotels. About thirty years later, the project type known as train depots evolved. By the Civil War in the 1860’s, the unique characteristics of railroad depots were established. Early railroad architecture usually consists of a one story building with the long side parallel to the tracks. Large cantilevered overhangs. Often bracketed, protected passengers from the weather and allowed freight and baggage to be easily unloaded. A bay window or a rounded corner tower became a unifying feature in the 1870’s, giving agents and passengers better visibility along the tracks. Starting in the 1880’s, clocktowers were often added to advertise railroad reliability and efficiency.
Early depot buildings tended to be utilitarian train shed, although many were graceful and charming. The heyday of railroad architecture spanned from 1880 to the 1929 Depression.
Railroad architecture eventually evolved into a truly American style of architecture, a style that was an expression of our values and ideas. The designs often reflected local weather and social conditions. Major cities in the U.S. had railroad station designed by experienced architectural firms, but small depots were built by the same railroad construction contractors who were laying rail and building maintenance sheds.
A selected “style” was often an effort for the railroad company to make the railroads unique and identifiable. The Hamlet Passenger Depot was designed in a Queen Anne version of the Victorian style of architecture. Queen Anne became popular in the late 1880’s, often used in larger depots. The style features a round corner tower with a pointed roof that resembles a witch’s hat. Lavish decoration and detail was used around windows, under eaves with brackets and railings. The Victorian style of architecture was built during Queen Victoria’s reign in England, from 1837 - 1901, the heyday of railroad construction. Queen Anne was a Victorian style toward the end of her reign, after 1880.