AIKEN, S.C. (WJBF) – A local group is volunteering to preserve Aiken’s rich history.
The revitalization of downtown Aiken is essential for economic development prompting an initiative to restore the original Aiken Railroad Depot and incorporate a visitor’s center. The building, housing both entities, was opened in September of 2010, but it’s still not completely finished because of money constraints.
Restoring the inside of the 2 Pullman Cars and the caboose has proven costly and the tourist attraction is privately funded. However, some locals are “All aboard for Aiken,” volunteering their time to get it done.
All railed roads lead to Aiken. A group of folks, who are part of the Friends of the Aiken Railroad Depot, say they’ve spent most of the summer tirelessly working to clean-up the caboose.
“This is a basically an observation post. Where the members of the crew would get up there and sight the train,” board member Bruce Eberhard told WJBF NewsChannel 6.
Eberhard says when the organization acquired the 2 Pullman Cars, they got the caboose as an added bonus. It had once been vandalized and used by the homeless. Several years ago, the outside was restored, but money ran out before the inside could be fixed.
“And now we’ve got enough money to at least start on it,” said Eberhard. “We are hoping to get it refurbished and paneled…making it look nice inside so that children can have birthday parties or that preschools can come in here.”
Tearing up the old lumber and patching up holes is the easiest part, however braving the heat not so much. Still in Aiken people are passionate about teaching future generations about Aiken’s important role in railroad history-including the fact that their hometown was once part of the longest, continuous rail line in the world. It spanned from Charleston to current day North Augusta.
“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the railroad, City of Aiken Tourism Clerk Mary Rosbach said. “The president of the railroad company, we are named after him, William Aiken, Sr. He actually never made it to Aiken. He had a horse and carriage accident and the interesting fact is a train spooked the horse.”
There’s no official timeline for the completion of all the projects. Rosbach is hopeful the restoration of the caboose will be finished by National Train Day in May of 2017.
If you are interested in volunteering your time to restore the caboose, Eberhard says they meet every Tuesday and Thursday morning starting at 7 a.m.
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