Q: There seem to be a lot of train stations named “Union Station.” How did our station get its name?
Answer: A “Union station” isn’t just a name, it’s a type of train station, representing a merger of different rail lines into a single facility.
As the Straight Dope answer column by Cecil Adams once put it, “they were an attempt to consolidate rail traffic into a single terminal instead of having each railroad build a separate station and approach-track system.... A railroad operating only a handful of trains per day through a town couldn’t afford to build a fancy station, but several railroads sharing one facility could. Many Union Stations were impressive works of architecture that were preserved long after the trains that used them had disappeared.”
That includes the Union Station in Winston-Salem, which was a collaboration between three railroads — the Southern, the Norfolk and Western, and the Winston-Salem Southbound. It was designed by the New York architectural firm of Fellheimer and Wagner in the Beaux Arts style, according to a history of the facility from the Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission.
It was originally planned in the 1910s, but construction was delayed by World War I. “Following the war, a site on Wheeler Street (later Claremont Avenue and now Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive) was selected,” according to the commission. “Over a 16-month period, the station was constructed at a cost of $800,000.” That is the equivalent of $11.6 million in modern dollars, according to the CP Inflation Calculator.
An article in the Twin City Sentinel from April 14, 1926, the day before the grand opening of the facility, said “New Union Station to be Opened Tomorrow — Is Conceded One of the Most Complete and Attractive Stations in the South.”
It remained in use as a train station until 1970, when the last train stopped there on a route from Greensboro to Asheville. It was designated a historic landmark in 1997.
Q: I attended the grand opening of the old train station on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and was amazed at the thought and care that went into the restoration. Do you know what the plans are for the building? I notice that the Winston-Salem Transportation Department has officers on the bottom floor, but what about the rest of the building? It would be a shame to keep it closed to the public, considering the amount of money it must have taken to restore.
Answer: According to Damon Dequenne, the assistant city manager, Winston-Salem State University is negotiating to put some administrative offices on the middle floor, and the city is searching for a restaurant owner to occupy much of the top floor.
“Earlier negotiations to have an Elizabeth’s Pizza fell through, and the city is in the process of taking proposals from other would-be tenants,” Journal reporter Wesley Young noted in a recent article on the renovations.
Dequenne said the city has two letters of interest from potential restaurant operations, and three more that are potentially interested.