Railroads once dominated transportation in Rockingham
The 1891 restored Seaboard Railroad Depot at U.S. 1 and Business U.S. 74, Rockingham, is about to enter new use by the Richmond County Tourism Authority now that the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce moved out to the Historic Victorian Seaboard/CSX Depot in Hamlet. And, interest might increase about the Rockingham Depot history.
History of railroads in Richmond County and Hamlet are well covered in the Hamlet Depot museums and Ellerbe at the Rankin Museum for the Ellerbe and Norman areas.
The Seaboard Depot is a very visible symbol of past railroad activity in Rockingham. Of course, CSX is still very much an active railroad providing continuous service in the Rockingham area.
(Before it was the Seaboard Air Line Railway Depot in 1900, the new passenger depot in Rockingham was being built in October 1891 by the Carolina Central Road. It replaced the first one. It began as the Wilmington, Charlotte and Rutherfordton Railroad.)
At one time there was a “Rockingham Railroad” which was founded in 1910 mainly to serve the many cotton mills in the area with rates lower than the Seaboard Air Line Railroad which dominated Rockingham rail service at that time.
Despite raising money through stock offerings, wealthy Rockingham industrialists could not raise enough money to develop their own railroad with rights of way, tracks and trains. So they called on the competition to the SAL, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, which was happy to become a partner and receive new business. (The SAL and ACL merged in 1967, and then became CSX in 1986.)
The new Rockingham Railroad never made a profit during operating years from 1912 to 1968, but over the years provided lower rates for its customers – the cotton industrialists – to more than make up for no railroad profit. ACL got a fortune in extra freight revenue and renting equipment.
The tracks ran from Rockingham north passing Pee Dee Mill No. 1 then through what is now Richmond Park – just about in the middle – up to the hill above Roberdel Mill and stopped at “Leak.” Then another set of tracks went from Rockingham south to Gibson.
The landscape today has changed so much it would be difficult to know exactly where the tracks went to serve Pee Dee No. 2, Midway Mill, and others.
Today some of that track runs by Cascades (Midway) and on across U.S. 220 to East Rockingham and the Richmond County Airport, dead ending now at Battley Dairy Road.
Tom Leak and Henry Wall in the early 1900s had large warehouses along the tracks to Roberdel in Richmond Park. When the line was removed and the warehouses torn down, Wall’s widow, Elizabeth, then expanded Richmond Park northward across the former right of way.
Henry Wall at one time was president of the Rockingham Railroad in which he was an investor. Leak was president of the Roberdel Mill. James Pickett Leak was the first president of the Rockingham Railroad, therefore the stop at Roberdel was called “Leak.” They were all involved in many mills.
Many prominent people in the county invested in the railroad as they did in many local enterprises in which each other held interests, so they spread the risk and wealth around in a small circle of friends and family.
The Carolina Central Railroad came to Rockingham after the Civil War once they straightened out the rails that Sherman’s Army heated and twisted around trees at Laurel Hill. Today the rail system still serves Rockingham as CSX Transportation.
The Seaboard Depot was abandoned in the late 1900s and given to the Richmond County Historical Society as long as it moved the depot from beside the railroad tracks at Caroline Street.
With the assistance of the N.C. Department of Transportation Rail Division, the Calvin Little Fund, and other funding sources, the depot was lifted off its foundation and brought to the southwest corner of U.S. 1 and Business 74 in downtown Rockingham.
The depot in Rockingham has been donated by the Richmond County Historical Society to the City of Rockingham.