Shirley Simmons 2021
One of the reasons Fuquay-Varina grew, the RAILROADS, we feature in our Fuquay-Varina Museums Tours. Uniquely in this one town, the railroads constructed THREE depots. Historically, we have been searching the data for these buildings. We have always been missing facts but , thanks to Tim Carroll, who has acquired and donated some wonderful records for our archives, we found much missing information. From these archives we can now add to our previous history of all three depot buildings.
Among these new documents is a detailed copy of the crossing of the two rail lines along what is now Broad Street. The Raleigh and Cape Fear desired to cross the line of the Cape Fear and Northern on the land of B. G. Ennis in Middle Creek township. It specifies that all expenses for putting in, maintaining, and replacing the crossing would be the responsibility of the Raleigh and Cape Fear. The agreement between John A. Mills, President RCFRR and J. E. Stagg, President CFNRR was signed April 27, 1899.
This settles the question of which line had the first track rights given by Mr. Ennis. The winner is the Cape Fear & Northern. The question of which railroad first constructed one of our three depots seems to belong to the Raleigh & Cape Fear, as of now.
The “little depot “ of the Raleigh and Cape Fear Railroad, sometimes called the Mills Railroad, was located along the tracks on the Depot Street side. It was the reason for naming the street running now from S. Main at the Mill (formerly Johnson’s Drug Store) to the rail lines. Later, because Hattie Parker established the Fuquay Springs Post Office, it would be termed the Fuquay Springs Depot. In 1900-1902, persons debarking here were in Sippihaw.
This depot appears only in a post card version showing a crowd of visitors all decked out in their traveling best. To recreate this building beside our caboose has been a dream of the Friends of the Museums. Mike Weeks graciously worked to design a building. However, this one photo gave very few details from which he could visualize the depot. The cost of building such a replica has escalated, too. That dream is still our dream.
The origin of this depot we already knew. Barney and Hattie Jones sold a strip of land fifty feet from the center of the track on both sides of the railroad to the Raleigh & Cape Fear RR for $1 on April 18, 1902. In addition, they included another 1 and 1/10 acre “ as may be suitable for a depot.” While the railroad, chartered in 1898, built the line and operated trains to a terminus on the Jones land, it was slow to construct a depot.
So slow in fact, that Barney and Hattie, on October 15, 1903, drew up another document. Having given 420 feet parallel to the track on both sides of the rail, and across the rail from the center of the trestle over Neill’s Creek a parcel containing 4 acres, they were upset that no depot had been constructed. They now declared the property contingent upon a freight and passenger station being located on the land within six months of that date.
Thus it has always appeared that our “little depot” probably was completed between October, 1903 and April, 1904. There is no evidence that the Jones’s took further action in the matter. The structure pictured is identified as the Raleigh & Southport Depot, the name under which Mills had reorganized the R & C F in 1905. We still can hope to find actual building details.
The second depot was that built on the original Cape Fear and Northern Railroad line along what is now Broad Street. In 1904, the CF & N RR name was changed to the Durham and Southern RR. An original shed, thought to have been in use circa 1908 by the D & S, was reputed to have been destroyed by fire We do have pictures of the construction of the still existing Varina Station depot under rail section supervisor, Stephen Brantley Adcock which the family dated as 1910.
One has to look closely at the current Aviator’s Tap House today to identify Adcock’s original Varina Station building within their present structure. Their web site speculates the building dates from 1903; however, it would appear not to be that early as the above photo clearly shows that building under construction.
Of course, there was no Broad Street when the rail lines first crossed and the nearest post office was VARINA south of town near the Ballentine home. Consequently the current area identified as “Varina” began with this Varina Station. Subsequently, in 1913 , Mr. Gregory applied for a post office across from the depot reviving a “Varina” post office. The museum has a map which show that in1914 there were no buildings along what was destined to become Broad Street; however, the street across from the depot began to sport some of the present buildings shortly thereafter.
Our new records show Varina Station’s depot first became part of an agreement on February 1, 1912 with the Raleigh, Charlotte and Southern line extending from Varina to Charlotte. This new line needed to use the D & S facilities at Varina for transfer of freight and passengers on the line which still runs west toward Duncan.
A Norfolk Southern memorandum from July 8, 1912 allowed the Raleigh Cape Fear and Southport acquired by Norfolk Southern circa 1911 to use the D & S facilities in Varina as well. Thus, the beginnings of what would be the Union Depot at Varina Station date from 1912. Agent J. E. Brown at Varina Station was paid a salary of $60 per month and the expenses of operating the facility, including maintenance, were shared equally by D & S and NS.
According to these archives, by 1926-27 disagreement about the feasibility of the union depot agreement surfaced. Contentions were multiple, continuous, back and forth between the parties.
D & S argued that Norfolk Southern used the yards and depot but did not account for track usage to and from the warehouse storage there. Norfolk Southern contended that erecting their own station would save them money. Both disagreed over the salary or charges by Brown who claimed he handled interchanges between 17 cars a day. Sunday operations or operations outside of hours were another source of contention. D & S termed the track operation a menace: trains came onto their tracks, made flying switches, split switches, and derailed or blocked the lines. NS countered their moving cars to the warehouse and interchanges saved D & S engines from having to perform this operation. D & S lamented that NS engines were much heavier, causing damage to frogs and guard rails, costing $700 in annual maintenance.
The Varina Station records for 1927 showed that gross revenues were $50,760.00 for D & S and $13,094.76 for NS. The station delivered freight valued at $118,642.39 to NS and received freight from NS valued at $199,294.38.
In the early 1930’s D & S continued to argue for more revenue from NS while NS discontinued agencies at Willow Springs and McCullers in 1932, putting this work on the Varina office. Upon reviewing the 1912 memorandum in 1935, they concluded nothing in the files actually gave NS the right to use D & S tracks in Varina.
The Varina Station occupied 11.20 acres of land, termed the most valuable property in Varina. The station value was $3,030.32 and the property $4,480. The estimated cost to build another station in 1935 would be $4,500. The rail yard in Varina was busy, handling “more trains than Zebulon, Wendell, or Lillington.”
The little Fuquay Springs depot was only 1/2 mile from Varina, in the city of Fuquay Springs. NS contended they could move this operation from Fuquay Springs to Varina and establish their own agency more economically.
Without notifying D & S, the Norfolk Southern management discontinued the Fuquay Springs Station effective July 1, 1935 and consolidated all operations in Varina. When challenged, Kennedy of NS replied this closure was based upon practicality. Almost all local business was being transferred at the Varina Station.
Our speculation on an earlier closing of the Fuquay Springs depot about the time of the Union Depot agreement was proven wrong. Alan Ashworth and Tim Carroll uncovered a listing of agents in 1934. Now we can prove the actual demise of that depot. We do know that when abandoned the building seems to have been used as a warehouse, or storage building. We have not yet found exactly when it was demolished. Tax records show NS continued to own a parcel of land along the track consistent with the location of the original depot.
The letter exchanges did provide us with an interesting list of industries and businesses. In Varina were: Varina Knitting (no siding); W. H. Stephens (warehouse); Varina Supply Co. and Carolina Feed (section of a warehouse). Also listed were Farmer’s Supply, Varina Implement Co., and Standard Oil Co. Listed as between Varina and Fuquay were: American Supplies & Senter Lumber Co (on wye off NS main branch to Fayetteville) and Clark-Phelps coal dealers (siding off Fuquay branch). Also listed were Proctor-Barbour furnishings and hardware, E.C. Fish fertilizer, and K.B. Johnson & Son gas and oil (all off a siding of the Fuquay Branch)
By the mid 1930’s the flurry of letters delineate constant contention between keeping a union depot and operating separate facilities by each railroad. The major disagreement: costs of the operation versus fair charges. Agent J. E. Brown, serving as telegraph agent, too, requested that D & S keep the Railway Express Agency in their depot. On June 22, 1936 Railway Express judged there was no reason for them to change their location even if the two railroads divorced.
On June 6, 1936, Hawkins of NS stated there was no possibility of reaching an agreement on the use of Varina Station facilities so he was instructing their engineering department to arrange for the construction of their own station in Varina. Yet Kennedy of NS wrote two days later that he saw no necessity for both rails to have their separate stations in a small place like Varina. Gill of D & S countered that the instructions to begin construction had already been given by NS.
The argument escalated when D & S refused to allow Norfolk Southern access onto their property and proposed placing a fence between the two lines. The General Superintendent of NS wrote D & S Gill that such a fence would “make it impossible to unload passengers or send express and mail from our main line to the joint station for local delivery.” He suggested there would need to be an opening in the fence to pull baggage and mail trucks through.
Enclosed with the above report was notation of a petition signed by 44 individuals and local businesses supporting the union station as completely satisfactory. W. S. Cozart, Mayor of Fuquay Springs sent a Western Union Telegram dated June 20, 1936 with the same message.
The result was a NS application filed with the N. C. Utilities Commission to built a NS station at Varina. This was countered by D & S Gill asking Mayor Cozart to set the record straight with the public on D & S’s attempts to negotiate with NS on the matter and touting their shared use of facilities since 1912.
A strange event followed. The records include a letter on June 23, 1936 to Gill noting that NS had been ordered to stop work on tearing down the Fuquay Springs Station. They were to return and replace the boards they had taken to Varina to build a new station there.
Kennedy of NS wrote that he visited Varina and concluded that NS could build on the Fuquay Springs side of their line and have adequate space without using D & S property; however, he insisted he would not oppose a new joint station as Mayor Cozart proposed.
The North Carolina Utilities Commission received the petition and requested that the two gentlemen (Kennedy of NS and Gill of DS) exert the powers of their respective offices to effect an amicable agreement and continue the union depot in June, 1936.
The proposed building by NS was stopped pending the announced public hearing with the Utilities Commission.
A flurry of letters ensued with conflicting opinions on who was most responsible for the controversy. Both sides contributed documentation on costs with NS insisting they could serve better and more cost effectively with an independent station. Opinions from all sides are documented in the archives throughout the entire year.
Finally, on November 24, 1936, an order from the Utilities Commission came down. The rails would continue joint operation of the passenger depot using the D & S agency forces at the Varina Station. NS would build an additional facility for handling freight on their own property.
This directive dates our third depot. It actually was an open ended portion of the same structure operating today on the premises of the Norfolk Southern line in Varina. When NS was unable to complete the building by Jan 1, 1937, the rail used box cars on a side track until the station was finished.
The major documents following this year involved the payment by NS for use of the D & S depot and the D & S agency staff. Norfolk Southern discontinued passenger service circa 1939. Officials declared in 1941 that they would no longer need or use the waiting rooms in the D & S depot. The exact date for the termination of passenger service by D & S was not documented in these papers.
After a conference, effective April 1, 1944, D & S paid all agency salaries and billed NS for their proportion of services. At that time Norfolk Southern operated 8 trains daily through Varina on their lines to Fayetteville and Charlotte while Durham and Southern operated 2 trains daily. Gross revenues for NS were $39,958 while D& S revenues were $28,337. That small 58 mile line continued to be the very profitable operation.
Finally, Norfolk Southern decided it no longer required the services of the D & S agent or any use of the office. Effective August 1, 1957, Norfolk Southern established it own office using the building which still exists along the tracks in Varina. Handling all NS business , thereafter the open structure was completely closed to fit their operation.
When Seaboard Railway purchased the Durham and Southern line, the routing system was replaced by mobile units. Katherine Brown succeeded her father in the agent’s chair. 1977. When the depot closed in 1977, Katherine transferred to Apex for four years.
Multiple efforts to preserve the Varina Station building as an historic site were initiated.
The present New Hope Valley Railway considered using the line for its tourist attraction. The Railway Historic Society and the Fuquay-Varina Preservation Alliance tried to save the building.
The tracks were removed along Broad Street and the depot stood derelict. Finally Akin Properties acquired the building and moved the depot, minus the freight sheds, closer to the Ennis street crossing. Aiken constructed the new brick structure, they named “Varina Station” on much of the original depot site The wooden depot became rental property for several retail businesses until it was purchased by the Aviator.
When one views closely the current Aviator’s Tap House, much of the interior of the Varina Station was carefully preserved. The exterior of Adcock’s original Varina Station building presents a much altered facade changed several times as repurposed for the Tap House.
Still Fuquay-Varina can boast of retaining two of her three historic depots. Thanks to this recent cache of documents, we can now date the three with more accuracy. The history surrounding the Union Depot at Varina Station proved to be contentious but illustrative of the town’s growth. Later archival finds may add more details to their life.
Sources: Archives of Norfolk Southern and Durham and Southern correspondence 1912- 1957 donated by Tim Carroll, History of Fuquay-Varina (2009), School History (of FCHs) by J. Simona Lee , History of FVHS by Shirley Simmons, Searchlight, 1928, Deeds of Wake County, Independent . May 6, 1967, Sept. 12, 1989, Feb 17, 1949, and other files of the museums.