By Mike Conley | The McDowell News
Last year, Old Fort celebrated its railroad heritage with exhibits, music and fun-filled activities for young and old alike. The first-time event proved to be a hit.
On Saturday, the town will again commemorate the days when steam was king and folks traveled everywhere on steel wheels and rails.
The Second Annual Railroad Day in Old Fort will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Depot, which for many years was a station for the Southern Railway. The event is free to the public.
Train enthusiasts, and all those who are children at heart, will enjoy the model railroad exhibits inside the Depot, which also has displays of old railroad memorabilia. Wes Lael of Old Fort Model Trains is coordinating the model railroad exhibits.
The Depot’s visitors center and railroad museum will be open, along with the former Southern Railway bay window caboose nearby.
Outside, the celebration will feature a talented face painter, Joan Jackson, who is ready to create some “cheeky” masterpieces for the youngsters. Bouncin’ Kids from Nebo will set up inflatables in Bradley Park, directly across the street from the historic Old Fort Arrowhead.
The Flying Rock Band will entertain the crowd with covers of classic rock songs from the 1960s through the 1980s. Nathan Ebanks, Rick Travis, Rob Hoffner and Gillaaron Houck enjoy interacting with their audiences. You might recognize Houck from his years as an actor. One of his roles was the character of Leroy on the hit television show, “The Dukes of Hazzard.” The band will play in the courtyard outside the Depot. Folks are asked to bring lawn chairs and meet the band. The music is expected to start around noon, depending on the setup time.
During the late 19th century, Old Fort was a popular tourist destination. The Western North Carolina Railroad built the first train depot, Henry’s Station, two miles east of the historic Round Knob Hotel. In 1879, the depot burned followed by the loss of the Round Knob Hotel. The hotel was built very close to the tracks. Sparks generated a fire in 1903 burning the hotel to the ground. In 1881, the second depot opened and that facility is active today operating as a visitor center and railroad museum. For many years, it was a passenger station for the Southern Railway.
Nearby Andrews Geyser is another railroad landmark. It was named after Col. A.B. Andrews, the second vice president of the Richmond and Danville Railroad and one of the early leaders of the Southern Railway.
Lodging and area information are available online at www.mcdowellnc.org or call the McDowell Tourism Development Authority toll free at (888) 233-6111 for additional details.