Old freight depot coming down

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 29, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY – The historic 1907 freight depot near North Lee Street will be history this week after Norfolk Southern Railroad finishes demolishing the building.
Historic preservationists said they were saddened Tuesday morning to see an excavator tearing down the depot without receiving word from the railroad. The two organizations had been communicating for several months about the building.
Brian Davis, executive director for Historic Salisbury Foundation, said despite the communication, the railroad did not notify the foundation before demolition began at 9 a.m., so nothing was salvaged from the building.
“What a waste,” Joyce Anderson wrote on the foundation’s Facebook page. “Old wood is so recyclable and beautiful. Shame on the railroad.”
Davis estimated 10,500 cubic yards of old-growth timber is headed to a landfill. He said preservationists would have salvaged siding, brackets, flooring and more.
“There is a huge amount of flooring that could have been remilled,” he said. “It’s very high-quality material and more than 100 years old.”
Davis said he was not surprised the railroad moved forward with demolition but was disappointed with the lack of stewardship.
“It’s one thing to lose that history, especially in a rail community like this, but it’s also wasteful that this is being mechanically pulverized,” he said. “There is so much material that could be salvaged and reused.”
A spokesman said the railroad received no request to salvage materials.
“We have not received any requests to enter the building to salvage any of its contents,” said Robin Chapman, director of public relations for Norfolk Southern Corporation.
The company understands and respects the community’s desire to preserve elements of its railroad history, Chapman said.
“In that spirit, several months ago, we advised the Historic Salisbury Foundation that we would be willing to convey the old freight depot to the group and delay demolition for a reasonable amount of time to give them a chance to remove it from the property,” he wrote in an email Tuesday afternoon. “However, the group has been unable to come up with a plan to remove it, and we need to proceed with our plans for the property.”
The railroad offered to give the building to the foundation for free, as long as it was moved from the site. But Davis said moving the building, which measures 45 feet by 200 feet, would be impossible without dismantling it. If relocated, the depot would lose its designation on the National Register of Historic Places.
Cost was prohibitive, and the foundation had nowhere to place the depot, he said.
Instead, the foundation offered to take ownership of the depot, insure it and leave it where it is. Davis proposed installing a fence for security and using the facility as the new location for the Salisbury farmers market and an architectural salvage warehouse.
The railroad did not reply to the proposal, Davis said.
Tuesday afternoon, Chapman told the Post not only was the building “badly deteriorated, but its location, bounded on all sides by active sections of track, is not feasible for use for any purpose other than railroad operations.”
“It either had to be removed or demolished,” he said. “Once it became evident removal was not going to happen, we had to proceed with demolition.”
The depot stands alone in the “wye” formed by the tracks going north-south and west. More than 60 trains pass the depot each day.
The railroad considers the depot a liability and could not allow it to remain in place, an official told the Post in May.
Vacant since 2007, the building was the site of increased amounts of trespassing and safety issues, said Matthew Jones, Norfolk Southern property manager for North Carolina.
At the time, a lawyer for the railroad said the depot is “quite simply falling down” and unsafe because of an unstable foundation and the building’s location in the wye.
Davis disagreed and said the building was “in really good condition.”
One Historic Salisbury Foundation member said many people in the community would have been interested in salvaging wood from the depot.
“They could at least make that old-growth timber available to interior designers and architects, not to mention the HSF,” Kathy Stevens posted on Facebook. “We could use it in the repair of other historic structures.”
Jeff Morris said the railroad had no choice.
“This is what happens when preservationists demand the whole enchilada and are unwilling to compromise,” Morris, a lawyer and Spencer alderman, posted on Facebook.
In May, Jones said the railroad had a new sense of urgency to demolish or remove the building due to break-ins and a development opportunity. The railroad may use the wye for “some sort of development” in conjunction with railroad operations, he said.
The building is listed as a contributing structure in the Salisbury Railroad Corridor Historic District.
As a courtesy, the railroad applied last spring for a Certificate of Appropriateness from the city’s Historic Preservation Commission to tear it down.
While the city insisted the railroad must obtain a permit before demolishing the depot, which could have taken more than a year, Norfolk Southern argued that federal laws governing interstate commerce pre-empt any state law or local ordinance.Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.