Former Seaboard Air Line passenger station still serves the public, albeit in a different way
The tracks are were moved in a massive railroad relocation project in the 1980s and 90s to relieve grade crossing congestion in the area. A new Amtrak depot was built a few blocks away. Eventually the former Seaboard Air Line Passenger Station got a new lease on life as a Blue Marlin restaurant and remains open to the public to this day, complete with the platform left in place.
A fire did cause significant damage to the Blue Marlin on June, 24, 2001. The State (Columbia, SC) quoted fire officials who put the damage estimates at $300,000. The cause of the fire was determined to be the neon ligting that hung around the stations eves. But the structure was saved and renovated. It reopened in early 2002.
My first supervisor at Columbia, Bill Grimmer, had worked in the SAL/SCL (Seaboard Air Line later became Seaboard Coast Line) Accounting Department in Richmond prior to going with Amtrak. He always said that the Columbia station upgrade was the last major capital expenditure approved by Seaboard before the merger, and was a personal goal of SAL Vice President Passenger Traffic J. R. "Jim" Getty. Prior to its renovation, the Columbia depot was in extremely dismal condition. It really looked like it should be condemned. It had plywood waiting room doors, which were propped open all summer because it wasn't air conditioned! As a small child, when my parents
took me down to watch the Silver Meteor come through, I could sit on the short bench in front of the bay window on warm nights and listen to the operator and other employees talking in the office because all the windows were open.
They rebuilt the building in stages. First, they gutted the "white" waiting room on the south end of the building and used the "colored" side as the only waiting room, then when they finished it, they gutted the north half of the building. The whole thing was completely gutted, even the windows. At first, I thought they were tearing it down completely. The north half of the building was partitioned off with new interior walls creating offices for the District Freight Traffic Manager, Bevel P. Beard, who had been Assistant General
Passenger Agent but had elected to remain with SCL instead of going to Amtrak, an office for Claim Agent Dean Thomerson, and the Property Protection office.
After SCL became Seaboard System, they built a new office building on the north side of Lady Street, about a block west of the passenger station, and all those offices were relocated there. This was a very modern building with a lighted sign on the front with the "SS" logo and "Seaboard System Railroad." They only stayed in that building maybe a year or two, before the new building at Cayce Yard was built and the Lady Street office sold. If it's still there, I can no
longer recognize it. SBD did keep the former Freight Traffic office, which was occupied by Furman R. Younginer, Treasurer of the CN&L. Amtrak took over the other two offices, one as an overflow baggage storage room, and the other as an office for Sales Representative Earl Eargle. After Mr. Younginer retired, his job was transferred to Jacksonville, and his old office became the Amtrak Sales Office, until Amtrak closed all its field sales department offices. The old
sales office on the corner of the building was taken over by train crews, who worked out a deal to make a quick turn from 81 to 82, if they could make if from Raleigh to Columbia and back in less than 12 hours. They had cots and lockers set up in the office to relax and nap between trains.
The old Seaboard station had a very strange and limited track layout. Between the tunnel and the viaduct, there was hardly room for anything. The depot itself was on a siding. The original main line came out of the tunnel and ran tangent to the viaduct, and a siding broke off in the middle of Lady St. and ran to just the other side of Gervais. That's why there is a curve in the umbrella shed between Gervais and Senate Streets. Seaboard finally made the siding the
permanent main track, leaving the switches lined for it. It was so short it only held about 4 cars anyway. The tangent track, next to Lincoln Street, eventually became the office car track.
The freight house track, between the umbrella shed and what's now the Longhorn Steak House, was where they spotted boxcars during the LCL freight era. The opposite side of the building, to the left as you face it from Gervais St., was the loading dock where the public drove up to pick up or drop off shipments. After LCL traffic ended, the track was maintained for picking up/setting off cars from passenger trains. A yard engine would follow the northbound Palmland, No.
10, across the viaduct from Cayce, couple onto the rear and pull its train out onto the bridge, then switch in/out the local Columbia mail cars, later transferring them over to the post office at Taylor St. I never saw what went on with No. 9, I guess they switched the head end with its own engines down at Senate Street.
I don't know how they worked the diner off of the Silver Star Nos. 21/22. It ran on basically the same schedule Amtrak runs the Silver Star on today, so it was a quick turn. I just remember the timetable indicating it carried a diner between New York-Columbia and Jacksonville-Miami. That saved them a diner and a crew by doing it that way, I guess. I was normally not allowed to stay up that late, but I do remember one night begging to stay and watch 21, which was on
time, but I always had to stay on the north end of the station, where we parked right next to Lady St. I remember seeing a yard engine shove two lightweight cars into that track, which I assume was the diner and a dorm car for the crew, off No. 21. But I only saw them from a distance. We parked on the sidewalk at Lady Street because there was always such a crowd down around the other side of the depot, there were never any parking spaces, and usually gridlock. The
engine crews on 58 got so used to seeing me that they often would lift me up into the cab and let me sit in the engineer's seat until the little air whistle signaled the conductor was ready to leave. Then they'd hand me down to one of the inbound crew standing there to grab me. At one time I had a whole cardboard box full of sets of train orders, clearance cards, and messages they had given me and I had picked up off the ground, no telling how many. Years later, after
I moved away from home, my mother cleaned out the garage and threw them all away, along with my timetable collection. She thought they were just worthless old papers!
(Many thanks to Michael Young for the original e-mail several years ago to the Carolina Rails YahooGroup and also for allowing me to post it here. -- JCH)