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Winston-Salem partners with WSSU to record the memories of Union Station

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Millions of dollars were spent to renovate Winston-Salem's Union Station. But the one thing construction crews couldn't bring back to the old train station were memories.

So, the city of Winston-Salem partnered with Winston-Salem State University to record the memories of people that worked or visited the building.

As a child, Alan Keely's family used to stop by the Biltmore Dairy at the Thruway Shopping Center for ice cream. After ice cream, it was time to watch the trains at Union Station.

"I can remember standing on the platform watching the trains come in," said Keely. "At the same time, looking west, you got a nice view of Winston-Salem."

Keely also remembers a funny thought about the people that stood behind the security cage selling tickets.

"The guys behind the windows," Keely described. "I thought, 'gee, they are in prison,'"

The stories are coming from all corners of the city. WSSU will compile the stories and share them with the public when Union Station opens in September.

Tom Flynn, assistant director of archives and special collections for WSSU, is in charge of the oral history project.

"The station impacted people’s lives," Flynn said. "We got a good sense how important the station was to every aspect of the city and people in the community."

So, when passenger rail service stopped in 1970, folks like Keely were upset to see the station turn into an auto repair shop.

"I was devastated when they canceled the train service and saw them tear out the front doors and put in garage doors," Keely said. "I was heartbroken."

Larry Cheek is also sharing his thoughts about Union Station with Winston-Salem State University. He was also disappointed when the trains stopped.

"It broke my heart that they put a garage in here," said Cheek. "It was such an abuse of the building."

It took two years to turn the garage back into a train station. Cheek and Keely said it looks like the station has never aged.

"Seeing the building, the windows, doors, the wood work, it's like 'I remember that,'" said Keely.

By interviewing so many people, Flynn believes the oral history project is also helping Winston-Salem State University.

"We've been able to meet people we might not be able to come into contact with and build relationships we might not have the opportunity to build previously," Flynn said.

Union Station will open to the public on September 7th.

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