A Guide to Georgia's
|An example of a combination depot at Lavonia. Freight room is on left. Depot agent's office and passenger waiting rooms are on right.|
The combination depot
Most of the state's depots are located in small towns (or in towns that were small before suburban growth). Small towns usually had so-called combination depots, which combined freight and passenger functions in a single building. Typically these included a freight room, passenger waiting rooms, and an office for the depot agent.
The buildings were almost always rectangular with the long side parallel to tracks. The freight rooms had large sliding doors on both the track side and street side. In south Georgia there was often a covered open-air freight platform attached to the freight room.
|Covered open-air freight platform at Iron City depot.|
|The depot agent’s office almost always had a bay window for better visibility up and down the track. This example is in Byron.|
Separate freight and passenger depots
Larger cities often had separate structures for passengers and freight. In some cities served by two or more railroad companies, a union passenger depot might be built. Not all railroads participated in these arrangements; some continued to maintain their own stations.
|This 1899 Central of Georgia depot at Forsyth accommodated passengers only; a separate building handled freight.|
|Central of Georgia Railway freight depot at Augusta.|
Occasionally one finds a two-story depot in a small town, but these are rare in Georgia. Depending on the location, the upper floor was used as living quarters for the depot agent, offices for railroad officials, a telegraph office, or as an "interlocking tower" to control switches and signals.
Multi-story depots were common in the largest cities and those medium-sized cities with more than one railroad line, such as Waycross, Thomasville, Tifton, Fitzgerald, and West Point where examples still exist.
|Georgia Railroad depot at Conyers.|
|Georgia Railroad depot at Camak.|
Most Georgia depots were constructed of wood or brick. Stone was also used in the northern half of the state, with examples found in Ringgold, Tunnel Hill, Chickamauga, Crawford, Forsyth, Jonesboro, and Stone Mountain.
|The 1840s Macon & Western depot at Forsyth is constructed of stone.|
Beginning in the 1890s, railroads were forced by southern states to maintain separation of the races in stations and passenger cars. It was not until November 25, 1955, when the Interstate Commerce Commission banned segregation on buses and trains and in railroad stations, that the separate facility policy began to crumble. (Segregation in bus stations would last several more years.)
Desegregation was not immediate. While the “White” and “Colored” signs over the doors might have been removed, African-Americans were often wary of entering the white waiting room. Old procedures remained in use for a time. Because the region was deeply conservative and resistant to Federal oversight, changes in law did not result in immediate changes in attitudes. In many towns, however, the issue was moot because passenger service had already been discontinued and the local depot handled only freight.
|AB&A depot at LaGrange. (From: Sanborn map of LaGrange, 1921. Full map is online at Digital Library of Georgia, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps).|
|Separate restaurants at Augusta's Union Depot. (From: Sanborn map of Augusta, 1904. Full map is online at Digital Library of Georgia, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps).|
Evidence of the decades of segregation is sometimes obvious on exteriors, especially where there are two doors when one would suffice. The two doors may be on the same facade or around a corner, depending on the station design. Because some depots were extensively remodeled over the years, it may be difficult to see the former double waiting-room configuration inside the building.
The subject of segregation has long been discomfiting to blacks and whites alike, although for different reasons. Only recently have museums and preservation groups ventured to include exhibits pertaining to that part of the past. A notable example is the passenger station at Montpelier in Virginia.
Early depots in major cities often provided shelter not only for passengers but also for the trains themselves. Atlanta had three such structures: the 1853 Union Station, the 1871 Union Station, and the 1905 Terminal Station.
|1853 Union Station at Atlanta. It was destroyed by Union troops in 1864.|
|A&WP depot at West Point. (From: The Heart of the South along the line of the Atlanta & West Point RR. Atlanta: Atlanta & West Point RR and Western Railway of Alabama, 1898. Online at Internet Archive.)|
|The Central of Georgia depot in Savannah features the last surviving train shed in the state.|
|Savannah had two sheds, at Union Station and the Central Station, both of which were located at the end of the tracks. (Many of the others were astride the tracks with trains coming and going in two directions.)|
To minimize expenses, railroad companies frequently used standard designs for their depots, especially those in small towns. There might be different sizes or classes to fit the particular city size or the expected volume of shipments, and some variation in materials and ornamental features might be allowed, but most communities received the standard depot.
A visitor traveling to all of the existing depots along a particular rail line today, however, may find that most do not appear to follow a single standard. This can be due to the line having some of its depots inherited from a predecessor road, from replacements based on a later standard, or from major alterations (or accumulated minor changes) to particular depots.
Many depots were replaced after fires (not all of which were the work of William T. Sherman), and the new buildings typically reflected the architectural fashions of the period in which they were built, not a standard design that may have become outmoded. A number of structures were expanded in ways that obscured the earlier appearance, and the opposite also occurred when buildings became smaller due to partial demolition. The depot in Cartersville is an example; it lost its huge freight warehouse in the 1970s which resulted in a radical change in appearance.
In larger cities, the railroad companies did not attempt standard designs, preferring to work with architects to produce distinctive stations that would become landmarks. Often joining with other railroads to construct union depots, they created the monumental passenger stations still seen in a few Georgia cities today.
Examples of standard designs used in Georgia:
Spanish Revival Depots
At the end of the 19th century and during the first two decades of the 20th, several railroads used a depot design approach sometimes called Mission-style or, more preferably, Spanish Revival. Appearing on depots in towns as small as Barnesville and as large as Atlanta, it celebrated the Spanish colonial heritage of the southernmost states. Photos.
|The recently rehabilitated Jesup depot is also an Amtrak stop.|
The Depot Today
A century ago there were hundreds of depots in Georgia providing passenger and freight service. Today, only five of the state's cities have Amtrak stations (Atlanta, Gainesville, Toccoa, Savannah, and Jesup) and freight is seldom if ever handled at a traditional downtown depot.
Even though most have lost their original functions, dozens of historic depots have survived, with most having been converted to new uses. A long-popular conversion is the community meeting and event facility in the old freight room. Examples can be found in Homerville, Camilla, Metter, Holly Springs, Carrollton, Thomson, Summerville, Augusta, and Atlanta to name a few. Welcome centers & chamber of commerce offices are also common, with examples in Columbus, Marietta, Tifton, and Warner Robins, among other places.
These uses have been so popular that towns without depots have built replicas of the stations they once had (e.g., Cedartown, Roberta, Smyrna, Lula, and Warm Springs). The accuracy of replication varies; perhaps some should be called depot-styled structures.
Over the years, many Georgia depots were moved from their original sites, some a few dozen yards and others nearly a hundred miles. The Decatur, Flowery Branch, and Madison (Central of Georgia) depots are examples of the short-move variety, while the long distance travelers include these strucures:
At Odum and Warrenton are depots that may look like they were moved only a short distance, and that's true if one ignores the long "detours" along the way. Odum's depot was moved down the road to Jesup in 1969 and then back to town in 2002. Warrenton's depot was relocated to Augusta in 1983 and then was returned two decades later. The round trip of about 90 miles puts it in the range of the Shannon-to-Mountain Park move.
The Duluth depot moved at least three times: in 1975, 1986, and 2008. It remained close to town, and its present location at the Southeastern Railroad Museum is only about a mile and a half from its original site.
The Tate depot will be moved to the opposite side of Highway 53, if long-delayed plans for the relocation are carried out.
Other uses include libraries (Reynolds), senior centers (Athens), college fitness centers (Milledgeville), professional offices (Fairburn), and businesses (Ellijay, Whitesburg, Tifton, and many others).
A significant number were moved to private property and converted into storage buildings, barns, retreats, and residences (Moultrie, Douglasville, Egypt, Pitts, Osierfield, Junction City, Coolidge, Sharon and others).
RailGa.com. Georgia's Railroad History & Heritage. © Steve Storey