HAMLET, North Carolina — To stop or not to stop, that is the question when approaching this small railroading town in North Carolina.
I chose wisely, and passed a few well-spent hours in quaint little Hamlet on a recent trip through southern North Carolina.
The town was incorporated in 1897 at the intersection of two railroad tracks and became the headquarters for the Seaboard Air Line Railroad.
Hamlet was known as "the Hub of the Seaboard" in the early 20th century because of the more than 30 passenger trains that passed through each day. The town was a major railroad stop, much like an airline hub of today, where passengers could transfer to trains headed in different directions.
One delightful memento of that heyday is the magnificent train station built in 1900 that now serves as a town museum. It also remains a working train station, sheltering passengers awaiting the two daily Amtrak trains that stop in town.
The station, although still located next to the tracks, was moved 250 feet from its original location in 2004 when the city bought the old building from CSX Transportation.
The station has been meticulously restored and is probably one of the finest stations still serving passengers in the United States. It’s a Queen Anne Victorian gem, a huge L-shaped, two-story structure with roofs overhanging a long porch and a sweet turret at the center. The station is said to be the most photographed train station in the East. Whether or not that’s true, it certainly is a beauty.
The museum, on the second floor, features artifacts from Hamlet’s railroading history and other aspects of the town’s history. Visitors will also find a model-train layout in the station’s basement, representing Hamlet as it looked in 1952 when many of the trains were still running.
A display railroad engine and caboose sit on their own near the station.
The town visitor center, next to the station, exhibits more Hamlet history, including information about another famous "Trane," Hamlet native John Coltrane, the legendary jazz saxophonist and composer.
Visitors can also check out the "Tornado Building," named for the first train to come through Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1840. The building, just across the street from the visitor center, houses antique vehicles, including the rebuilt "Tornado."
As it turns out, finding oneself in Hamlet with a few hours to spend is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
For more information about Hamlet, call 910-582-0603 or visit
— Steve Stephens can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @SteveStephens.