The survival of a 19th century piece of Selma’s history, which played a role in the Civil War, is at stake.
The old Mitchener Railroad Station, located at South Webb and East Railroad Streets, is believed by historians to be the oldest surviving train station in North Carolina.
The station, now owned by the Town of Selma, was built in 1855 by the North Carolina Railroad Company our of long leaf pine lumber.
After 162 years, the station’s future is uncertain. It resets on property owned by the railroad, which says it needs to be moved, and the town can’t find a new home for it.
Megen Hoenk, the railroad’s director of corporate communications, said the station’s current location has become a safety hazard.
“The station is located well within the 200-foot-wide North Carolina Railroad corridor. The station’s proximity to the tracks presents significant safety hazards for anyone attempting to access the structure, said Hoenk. “Additionally, infrastructure like rail requires taking into account the long term, and considering the possibility of future tracks on the NCRR line for freight and passenger service.”
Hoenk said the railroad and the town have discussed moving the station for several years.
“We are prepared to assist the town in moving the station by matching the needed funds, up to $10,000,” said Hoenk. “At this time, there is no timetable for moving the station.”
Local historian Eric Jackson said the station should be preserved because it’s a major piece of railroad history.
Michael Southern, a North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, agreed.
“It is most certainly the oldest built on the NCRR and is a very important depot from the early years of railroading in North Carolina, said Southern. “This is an important railroad station and should be preserved.”
Jackson worked for several years with Ray Jaklitsch, co-chair of the Selma Development Partnership (SDP) and the late Selma journalist Dennis Davis to save the station,
“It was a station where Confederate soldiers went off to war and returned home,” said Jackson. “It later became a freight station for Southern Railroad and was still used for that purpose well into the 20th century.”
When Jackson joined the SDP in 2007, a committee was formed to preserve the station.
“We found the perfect location, got excited but then negotiations stalled,” said Jackson. “The property owner didn’t want to either sell or lease property.”
There has been talk through the years of restoring the station.
“We could foresee adding a stage and using it as an entertainment venue. It could also be an inviting Visitor’s Center and café,” said Selma Mayor Cheryl Oliver. “Its new location will ultimately help determine the best use for it. We need to find land for it before we can restore it.”
The town has appealed to the community for someone to donate property for the station but there’s been no response.
Jackson said the town should issue a bond to purchase a site for the Mitchener Station, relocate it and then restore it.
“We might want to consider a bond for multiple uses,” said Oliver. “Discussion regarding a bond will occur towards the end of our budget discussion after we have better defined our needs.”
The station does have a colorful history. Confederate soldiers used the station to fight off Union soldiers but were eventually overwhelmed by them.
It was also the site where former Gov. Zebulon B. Vance told the Confederate troops to “fight till Hell freezes over!”
After the speech, Vance and his entourage rode to the nearby Stevens farmhouse for a cotillion held in his honor. The final review of the Confederate army took place there, though Mitchener said few believed the war’s end was so near.
According to the late John Mitchener, son of station property owner Agrippa Mitchener, owners were assessed one-tenth of everything raised on the farms for government purposes.
Mitchener said this included apple brandy. Several barrels of this brandy were in the depot waiting for shipping orders, and all, to save room, were standing head on or head up as you may have it.
Soldiers camping near there took in the situation, and with tubs, canteens, and buckets went under the floor and into the barrels above and drew every drop of brandy out, and it was not discovered until loading time and hands were setting the barrels in box cars for shipment.
Mitchener said no arrests were made.