WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Train stations across the United States and even in the Piedmont are getting a second look. Trains and buses are once again rolling out of the Galyon Depot in Greensboro.
In Winston-Salem, Union Station will soon open its doors to the public. Michelle McCullough is the historic resource officer for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County. She smiled as she walked through the newly-renovated Union Station.
“You get the sense that this building has life and stories to tell,” McCullough said. “I think that’s why we do what we do. It makes Winston-Salem a special place.”
In the late 1920s, Union Station was the transportation hub for North Carolina’s then-largest city. But by the 1970s, people abandoned trains and embraced cars. Union Station was no longer needed. In fact the grand concourse that led passengers to train loading platforms was ripped from the back of the terminal. Union Station was then sold and turned into a car repair shop. 30 years later when Winston-Salem regained ownership, a lot of work needed to be done.
“It looked like the floors were gray and the walls were dark,” McCullough said. “There was a lot of grease and a lot of dirt.”
Teams spent 18 to 24 months painting, replacing light fixtures and repairing broken windows.
Union Station was a segregation train station when it opened in the 1920s. $12 million was spent to rejuvenate both sides of the terminal. McCullough walked through the kitchen and into the former African-American side of the building. For her, this is the best side of the station.
“I like this side more because I like the detailing of the center dome and the terracotta floor,” McCullough said.
Construction crews are nearly finished. On the ground floor, a part of the city’s transportation department is preparing to move in. The middle floor is being prepared for office space. The top floor holds the historic waiting rooms. McCullough adds the old restaurant on the top floor could come alive again if a pizza restaurant decides to use the space. So there are plans to us Union Station as a gathering point once again.
“Hopefully be a part of the community more,” McCullough said. “If Winston-Salem State University can use some of it, local businesses, neighborhood people can come and have meetings here if they need to. It becomes a community asset.”
$15-18 million was set aside for Union Station’s rehabilitation. The final cost came in at $12 million. Winston-Salem is currently looking for tenants to fill the top and middle floors. Union Station will officially open to the public on Sept. 7.