There was a time when the local passenger train station was the most exciting place in town

October 18, 2015

Note: Some history ramblings from a retired newspaper editor in Florence, South Carolina, a bastion of the Old South and a former huge division office, yard, and passenger station of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, now part of CSX Transportation. In our age of terminal-to-terminal jet airplane travel, many have forgotten that traveling presidents, celebrities, and other notables took the train, and in the days before television and current electronics, crowds formed at train stations to glimpse a look at, and perhaps here a few words from, these famous people while a train briefly paused at a station. Florence is still a stop for both Amtrak’s Silver Meteor and Palmetto.

COLUMN: Presidents rode trains through Florence

It is now a McLeod Region Medical Center office building, but the old Atlantic Coast Line station which now stands beside the little Amtrak depot was for decades the most exciting place in Florence.Website Insert Turnkey Packages copy

Most presidents between Grover Cleveland and Franklin D. Roosevelt made stops there, mostly traveling between Washington and Florida. Cleveland is likely to have been the first, although there is a chance one of the two before him might have come through.

 Only one president stopped here for a formal appearance. That was William Howard Taft who made an appearance in Columbia, then the next day came over here to speak to a crowd in what is now Poynor School. At the time, that was a brand-new building expected to house all of the white Florence school pupils.

It must have been a big deal when the procession that picked Taft up at the ACL station rode through town with the big guy waving to the crowds.

The big dinner was held in the school auditorium with Taft as the main speaker. I have never found any record with details about his speech, and apparently he was received very warmly. On the other hand, I wonder about bringing a Republican president to town when S.C. voters expressed their resentments about the Civil War by voting for Democrats. (That was before Democrats were blamed for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.)

There is one other thing I worry about. After the dinner, which featured Pee Dee pine bark stew, Taft was said to have remarked that “I have been served by the chefs of Europe and the finest in the United States, but I have never had anything like Pee Dee pine bark stew.”

It was assumed this was a great compliment, but all he said was he had had nothing like it.

Read Thom Anderson’s full column from the Morning News by clicking here.


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