A trolley ride from the Old Fort Depot to historic Andrews Geyser and a hike along the Point Lookout Trail led by the McDowell Trails Association will be two of the highlights of Mountain Gateway Museum’s annual Railroad Day.
This year’s Railroad Day celebration in Old Fort will be held on Saturday, Sept. 16.
The event also will feature the popular Norfolk Southern Lawmen Band, a model railroad layout, several pieces of rolling stock, the Route 70 Cruisers’ antique cars, presentations by railroad historians and authors, and displays by a variety of railroad-related organizations, such as the N.C. Transportation Museum Foundation, the National Railway Historical Society - Asheville Chapter and the N.C. Geological Survey. Artists, craft vendors and demonstrators, special artifact displays, food trucks, live music and railroad-related children’s games and activities will round out the one-day festival, according to a news release.
Created to celebrate Old Fort’s rich railroading history, Railroad Day will kick off at 10 a.m. and run until 4 p.m. at two locations: Mountain Gateway Museum at 24 Water St. and the Old Fort Depot just two blocks north of the museum on West Main Street.
Festival admission is free. Parking will be available in the lot at the end of Water Street. There will be a $3-per-person charge to ride the trolley, but children younger than 5 can ride free. Tickets will be sold at the Old Fort Depot.
The air-conditioned trolley car will depart from the depot’s parking lot on West Main Street at the top of each hour, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Using the trolley’s announcer system, an on-board tour guide will relate stories about the Western North Carolina Railroad (WNCRR) during the 15-minute ride to Andrews Geyser.
This McDowell County landmark is a gravity-generated fountain first built by the railroad in 1885 as a tourist attraction. At its prime, the geyser could spew water 250 feet into the air. It was rebuilt in 1911 and was named in honor of Col. A.B. Andrews, who was instrumental in building the railroads through the mountains.
One of the engineering marvels of the 1870s, the WNCRR was plagued early on by war, financial fraud and political corruption. Many of the convict laborers used to build the rail line up Old Fort Mountain and over the Eastern Continental Divide died during the process, the victims of explosions, cave-ins, mudslides, and other catastrophes. But through their efforts, seven railroad tunnels and 13 miles of ascending, looping tracks were completed, and the WNCRR reached the top of the mountain at Ridgecrest on March 11, 1879, according to a news release.
As an added attraction this year, trolley riders will be taken onto the grounds of the Round Knob Lodge, where they can enjoy the view overlooking Andrews Geyser. Southern Railroad executives had the 6,500-square-foot lodge built in the early 1930s as a retreat for railroad workers. Now privately owned, the lodge is available only for rentals.
Also new this year is the hike along the Point Lookout Trail. Led by members of the McDowell Trails Association, the hike will be on a paved trail that follows Old Highway 70 West up Old Fort Mountain toward Ridgecrest, roughly paralleling the train tracks.
The hike will begin at 9 a.m. at the Point Lookout trailhead, near Piney Grove Baptist Church, 2737 Old Highway 70 West in Old Fort. The hike to Point Lookout is 5.2 miles with a 900-foot change in elevation (in other words, 2.6 miles up and 2.6 miles down). However, participants will have the option to turnaround at any point on the trail because it is an in/out hike, according to the news release.
For those who want a greater challenge, the hike will continue to a point on the trail offering views of the railroad and one of the seven tunnels built on the Old Fort Loops. This will add another two miles or so to the hike.
The hike is open to everyone, but anyone under age 18 must be accompanied by an adult. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes (sneakers or hiking/walking shoes), and bring water, as none is available along the trail or at the trailhead. Also bring a lunch or snack to enjoy at Point Lookout, according to the news release.
In case of rain, the hike may be cancelled. A notice of cancellation will be posted at the Mountain Gateway Museum by 8:30 a.m. and at the trailhead at 8:45 a.m. For more information, contact Steve Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back at the historic Old Fort Depot, inside the former baggage area, several railroad authors and historians will be signing and selling copies of their books and giving presentations at intervals throughout the day.
Matt Bumgarner, award-winning writer and regional publisher of the Tarheel Press, will discuss his new book, “Saluda: From Top to Bottom.” Marion Mayor and railroad author Steve Little will portray a convict laborer who worked on the WNCRR. Wayne Erbsen of Native Ground Books & Music in Asheville will entertain with railroad stories, humor, and songs. And Jerry Ledford with the National Railway Historical Society - Asheville Chapter will do a presentation about logging railroads in western North Carolina and also operate a switching layout in the depot.
Other speakers will include Ray Rapp, a former state legislator and college administrator now working with the Western North Carolina Rail Corridor Committee to restore passenger rail service to Asheville; Rocky Hollifield with the Craggy Mountain Line Railroad in Woodfin; railroad historian Dr. Fred McConnel of Atlanta; Roger Smock, a rail safety consultant with the N.C. Department of Transportation; and Bill Hendley with the McDowell Trails Association who will discuss Southern Railway’s old Peavine rail line, now a walking and bicycle trail in Marion.
The Old Fort Depot Museum, owned by the town and located in the central area of the depot, will be open on Railroad Day, allowing visitors to freely view a topographical model of the Old Fort Loops, as well as railroad objects and equipment used in the former rail station. The caboose parked at the west end of the depot also will be open.
On the grounds of the Mountain Gateway Museum, the Norfolk Southern Lawmen Band (mixed genre) will take the stage in the creekside amphitheater at 11 a.m., and the Possum Creek Band (bluegrass) will perform at 1 p.m.
Craft demonstrators and vendors, including quilters, needleworkers, woodcarvers, jewelry makers, broom makers, soap makers, beekeepers, and others, will be scattered across the museum’s grounds, as will the booths of numerous community organizations.
The N.C. Transportation Museum Foundation will have a display with touchable objects and railroad-related activities for children. And a representative from the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site will talk about Sandburg’s days as a hobo and help participants create cigar box-banjos and “play along” to songs from Sandburg’s book of folk songs. Face-painting, a costume dress-up/photo op with a locomotive cutout, and train-related games will be part of the children’s area.
If all the activity makes you hungry, vendors in the museum’s food court area around the outdoor fountain will offer hamburgers, hotdogs, barbecue, fried-fish sandwiches, funnel cakes, ice cream, popcorn, pretzels, cotton candy, shaved ice, soda, and bottled water, according to the news release.
For more information about Railroad Day 2017, please contact RoAnn Bishop at Mountain Gateway Museum either by phone at 828-668-9259 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Mountain Gateway Museum & Heritage Center is the westernmost facility in the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ Division of State History Museums. Nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the banks of historic Mill Creek in downtown Old Fort, the museum uses artifacts, exhibitions, educational programs, living history demonstrations, and special events to teach people about the rich history and cultural heritage of the state’s mountain region, from its original inhabitants through early settlement and into the 20th century.
Located at 24 Water Street in Old Fort, Mountain Gateway Museum is open year-round. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday, 2 to 5 p.m.; closed Monday. Admission is free.