You've probably heard of places described as railroad towns -- that was Burgaw back in the day. Two decades after the last train rolled through, the old train depot still holds a prominent place in town. They may be the quietest train tracks you'll ever find. A short stretch of rail left behind for nostalgia, a rusted reminder of the life that once rumbled to and from Burgaw's train depot for about 130 years after it opened in the 1850s. Burgaw train depot historian Mike Taylor said, "This was the Wilmington and Weldon railroad. It was called the longest railroad in the world when it was constructed. It might be said that Burgaw's heart first beat here at the depot." After all, without the depot, Burgaw may never have existed. In 1875 the railroad donated land here to create a seat for newly-formed Pender County. The streets around town still bear the names of prominent railroad men. Taylor said, "This depot is that reminder of how important the railroad has been through history." A rich history at that, especially during the Civil War. In 1863 Union cavalry set the Burgaw depot on fire. Two years later it was headquarters for the Confederate army after the fall of Wilmington and a temporary home for 6,000 union soldiers ahead of a prisoner exchange. "These prisoners had come from Florence, South Carolina, on a train. They'd been in box cars for days, they were finally out here for this prisoner exchange," Taylor said. Taylor, who is writing a history of the depot, says the last train rolled through in the early 1980s. The track, he says, is the last of its line from Wallace to the New Hanover County line. Today, after many years and at least $150,000 in work to renovate it, the oldest surviving train depot in the state serves many purposes. The old passenger area houses the Pender County Arts Council. The newly refurbished platform is a community plaza, making Burgaw's old-time hub a link to its past and its future. "It's great to have something in the town that provides that continuity of where we came from," Taylor said. The Burgaw Depot Historic Preservation Foundation is holding an auction October 13 to raise money to maintain the depot. If you'd like to donate an item call the foundation at 283-3000.
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