Train Tracks Through The UNC Campus

I can't remember where or when I heard someone mention that train tracks used to run through the UNC campus but the idea has intrigued me from the day I first heard it. Someone mentioned that chartered trains used to come down from Virginia for the UVA-UNC football game and would unload passengers somewhere near the current location of the Carolina Inn.

I thought this was neat and found it to be believable since I knew for a fact that special trains had run from Chapel Hill to Norfolk for UVA football games around the turn of the century, but there was one problem in trying to research the matter. I could find no evidence to support the fact that railroad tracks had ever run through the UNC campus and I couldn't even remember where I had first heard of trains and UNC. This pretty much left me without many clues as to where to begin.

My beginning point was that I had irrefutable evidence to support the fact that in 1905 a special train had run from Chapel Hill to Norfolk for the football game with UVA. The train departed Chapel Hill at 5:00 a.m. and the University at 5:45. This told me that there must have been tracks leading to the university rather than students boarding elsewhere in Chapel Hill.

The second clue I had was when I heard from a high school buddy who worked in the Buildings and Grounds Office while a student at Carolina that he had seen old drawings of the campus and that train tracks were shown on the drawings but he couldn't remember where. The plot thickens as my mother used to say.

When I attended a football game at LSU in the 60's and saw fans departing railroad cars from New Orleans within walking distance of the football stadium, I started fantasizing about what I had heard about a similar situation existing at Carolina but still no hard evidence that tracks ever existed on the UNC campus.

Recently I was lucky enough to secure a copy of William S. Powell's 1972 book entitled "The First State University" and I am able to now document the fact that train tracks, at one time, did run through the UNC campus. So I guess we had better consider stop laughing at State College because tracks run through their campus. At least, the trains bothered to stop at UNC but I don't believe that is the case in Raleigh. But I digress.

In Mr. Powell's book, which any serious student of UNC should acquire, there are several photographs which prove conclusively that tracks and trains at one time ran through the UNC campus. There is one photograph which shows students on the steps of passenger rail cars waiting for the train to leave and take them home for the Christmas holidays. This photograph was taken in 1912.

Another photograph shows the railroad crew standing beside a steam engine with the following caption:

"In 1879 a railroad 10.2 miles long was completed from University Station on the North Carolina Railroad to the western edge of Chapel Hill in what is now Carrboro. Two daily trips were made to connect with the train running between Goldsboro and Greensboro, and it usually took between an hour and an hour and ten minutes to make the run as the wood-burning engine had to stop several times each way for fuel. Between ten and twelve hundred passengers rode this train each month. During the course of construction on the campus in the 1920s, the line was extended so that building materials could be delivered closer to the sites where they would be used. Passenger trains then came onto campus, stopping between Memorial Hall and the Carolina Inn site, to pick up and deliver students at Christmas or to take the football team to games away."

There is one last photograph of the old "Y" building where a box car can be seen behind the building bringing materials to a construction site.

So the chase is over, well almost. I have now fully satisfied myself that trains and tracks did, in fact, run not only through the UNC campus but onto the campus as well. The only loose end left is to locate where University Station used to be and I may attack that problem when spring arrives and I can visit Chapel Hill at its finest. It doesn't take much for me to decide that I have to return to the scene of so many fond memories. Besides, they may have some new "Carolina stuff" on East Franklin St. that I don't have and that won't do.