The Richmond County town of Hamlet is a genuine destination point for railroading fans. A beautifully restored passenger depot, a faithful replica of the first steam engine to arrive in the state capital, and two railroad museums await visitors.
Hamlet is approximately 80 miles from Charlotte, about a 13/4-hour drive.
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Built in 1900, the Hamlet train depot is an architectural gem – the only surviving Victorian/Queen Anne-style passenger station in North Carolina. A federal grant financed a complete restoration of the historic structure, returning the depot to its early splendor.
Though it remains an active passenger station, the depot also serves as a museum devoted to sharing the history of Hamlet and the railroad through artifacts, oral histories, music and interactive displays. Visitors can tap out a message in Morse code using a vintage telegraph key, make train connections using the 1896 map of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad routes and principal connections, and listen to such well-known railroading songs as “John Henry” and “Rock Island Line.”
Across the street from the depot is the Tornado Building, so-called because it houses the restored replica of the Tornado steam engine. The original Tornado, built in 1839, was the first locomotive to arrive in Raleigh in 1840 on the newly completed Raleigh & Gaston Railroad. The replica is displayed on wooden rails topped with iron strips, the precursor to steel rails. The wood and metal replica is an antique in its own right, having been specially made for the Raleigh Centennial Exposition parade in 1892.
Allow time to explore the National Railroad Museum and Hall of Fame, just a few blocks away from the station. Items were donated by individual collectors. A rarity on display is a yellow-painted velocipede, a three-wheeled conveyance used by railroad employees to inspect tracks. NRM also owns and maintains the locomotive and caboose on outdoor exhibit in a small park adjacent to the Tornado Building.