Old Fort Railroad Museum
The Old Fort Railroad Museum resides in the old train depot at the center of the town of Old Fort. The Old Fort train station was the last stop of the Western North Carolina Railroad until 1879. Prior to this date, anyone riding the train and wishing to travel on to Asheville had to resort to a stagecoach for the rest of the trip. The Old Fort Depot, constructed in 1892, became an important stop for trains heading up to the Eastern Continental Divide. This newly updated museum contains hundreds of train parts, maps, photographs, and artifacts dedicated to those who risked their lives to bring the railroad to Western North Carolina.
Backstory and Context
Although Spanish explorers reached the western part of North Carolina in the 1500s, eighteenth century pioneers where the first to build a fort which for many years was the last stop before the Blue Ridge Mountains and total wilderness. A man named George Davidson owned an estate called the Old Fort Plantation within close proximity of the fort. In 1868, the railroad finally reached the plantation. Old Fort became the official name of the town soon after. For twelve arduous years, the construction to continue the railroad to Asheville commenced as inmates from the Raleigh Central Prison worked in dangerous conditions, taking orders from private contractors.
The Old Fort Depot, constructed in 1892, had several key purposes. In addition to providing passenger service until 1975, a freight room was added on in the early twentieth century. The purpose of this room was to store “helper engines” which were attached to west-bound trains for their journey over the steep mountain. Often, the upgrade was too sharp for freight trains and even some passenger trains. The museum offers numerous maps and photographs related to the railroad for visitors to view. In addition, the exhibit includes an abundance of antique railroad tools.