University Station began its life as "Strayhorn's Turnout," as shown on Walter Gwynn's North Carolina Railroad survey map from 1850-1851 (see below). At the time, the property was owned by James Strayhorn, who transferred the right to the North Carolina Rail Road of access to his property to lay a track and construct a depot and/or other buildings if necessary. The rail stop was planned at this location because it was the closest and most feasible place for students bound for the University of North Carolina, located approximately nine miles to the south in Chapel Hill, to disembark.
Strayhorn's Turnout, 1851
The train stop was soon called University Station (as in, the main train stop for accessing the University of North Carolina) and alternately, University; decades later the station itself was called "Glenn." Arriving students who were bound for the University of North Carolina would either walk or otherwise obtain transportation to the university campus in Chapel Hill, utilizing the "University Road" that was surveyed and constructed in 1855-1856. Walking to the university would likely take about six to eight hours; travel by horse or wagon would take about half that. It wasn't until after the rail line was built in 1882 to West End (renamed Venable in 1911 and then Carrboro in 1913) that students had the option of taking the approximate one-hour train trip closer to the University.
Excerpt from Cooke's 1857 map of North Carolina, showing 'Strayhorn's,' 'University Sta.' and the road to the University (dotted line)
The main rail line across North Carolina and Orange County was built in 1854-1855 and named the North Carolina Rail Road (NCRR). Several of the more influential citizens of Chapel Hill were a bit upset that they were bypassed by the railroad, and were also distressed that they didn't have easy access to the closest station to them at the time, located in Hillsborough. Chapel Hill had a town meeting December 27, 1854, to discuss how (by rail/a.k.a. "tram road" or plank road) and where they should connect with the railroad line; their location choices were Hillsborough, Durham, or Morrisville. There was also the suggestion that perhaps a plank road should be built directly to Raleigh and bypass utilizing the NCRR altogether. By 1858, a route for either a plank road or railroad from University Station to Chapel Hill was surveyed by UNC professor Charles Phillips, running along a ridgeline and described as needing little grading.
The first railroad that was chartered (by the North Carolina legislature) was the University Railroad Company, which called for construction of the railroad to begin by 1863 and be completed by 1867; however, the Civil War interrupted this, and it wasn't until January 1869 that the railroad was re-chartered. This re-chartered railroad was never built, due to political partisanship and lack of funding once the act creating the University Railroad was found to be unconstitutional.
The next attempt at a rail line was with the Chapel Hill Iron Mountain Railroad, chartered in 1873. Robert F. Hoke owned most of the “Iron Mountain” near Chapel Hill, and was the main drive in getting the railroad chartered and constructed. However, due to financial problems, the railroad failed pretty much even before it began. Additionally at this time, UNC was closed, and therefore there were no students needing to get to or from Chapel Hill (the college reopened in 1875).
In 1879, UNC President Battle, the trustees of UNC, and Robert Hoke (as president of the Chapel Hill Iron Mountain Company) again obtained a charter from the state legislature to build a rail line to Chapel Hill. An organizational meeting was held in April 1879, and subscriptions (i.e. promises of money) were obtained from the North Carolina Railroad Company, the Chapel Hill Iron Mountain Company, and residents of Chapel Hill. Rail lines to Hillsborough, Durham, Cary, or University Station were proposed; mainly due to financial considerations, President Battle and Robert Hoke decided to run the line to University Station.
In February 1880, surveying of the rail line between University Station and Chapel Hill began by Captains Fry and Williamson. The terminus point in (or near) Chapel Hill hadn’t yet been decided, but construction from University Station began by March 1880, utilizing mostly convict labor. By late November 1881, the line had been constructed over half the way to Chapel Hill (to New Hope Creek). By early February 1882 the rail line was completed.
The first attempt at creating a town around the railroad depot at University Station was in 1856, by Calvin G. Strayhorn and James Webb; they planned on creating a town of twenty, one-half acre lots, but the town didn't come into being apparently. According to deed records, University Station as a "town" was finally layed out in 1899. There were approximately 23 lots, plus the railway station. The last extant station structure itself was built likely sometime between 1899 and 1910.
The the rise of the automobile and the paving of the road between Chapel Hill and Durham in the 1920s forecasted the end of rail service between University Station and Chapel Hill. The closing of Durham Hosiery Mills Numbers 4 and 7 in Carrboro in the 1930s, which not only cut down on supplies going to and finished product leaving the mills but also the number of rail passengers, was the death blow to the line. The last passenger train was October 24, 1936; onboard were local dignitaries and local schoolchildren:
|When the last train ran, Bruce Strowd issued an invitation to the children of Chapel Hill to make the trip over to the junction and back. Many of them found it an exciting adventure because they had never been on a railway train before... Captain Fred Smith was conductor on the train from 1889 for about fifty years...|
At the time, the northbound trip took 70 minutes (with a stop for fuel at Blackwood Station), and the southbound trip took one hour.
As a side note, UNC freshman Benjamin Franklin Long, Jr. of Statesville (whose father was Benjamin Franklin Long, Sr., judge of the Superior Court of the Tenth Judicial District of North Carolina) was badly injured at the train station November 16, 1899. Long went outside the station's waiting room to watch the arrival of the 9:30 a.m. eastbound train, and a boxcar being backed up a siding hit him, knocking him under the boxcar and dragging him 20 feet. He was badly mangled and a special train took him to Watts Hospital in Durham, where four doctors attempted to save his life but were unable to.
The University Station, known as 'Glenn,' circa 1910, (from the collection of Art Peterson, via the Piedmont and Western Railroad Club)
Waiting for the train at O.E. Craig's general store at University Station, 1911 (image courtesy of UNC)
University Station, 1916 (image courtesy of UNC)
University Station, 1920 (image courtesy of UNC)
University Station, view west, early 1900s
Excerpt from Tate's 1891 map of Orange County, showing 'University Station,' University Road, and the rail line to Chapel Hill
Excerpt from the 1918 soil map of Orange County, showing 'University,' University Road, and the rail line to Chapel Hill
Excerpt from the 1938 highway map of Orange County, showing 'University,' and the rail line and road to Chapel Hill
Plat map excerpt from February 1942 showing the 'town lots' of University Station and the 'Chapel Hill and University Station Road'
Plat map from 1950 showing the 'town lots' of University Station (note: north arrow is 180 degrees off)
For photographs of the University Station area in the 1970s and currently, see Endangered Durham's blog entry.
For miscellaneous train-related images (the photographs were taken either at University Station or at Carrboro) from 1913-1921, see this page.
Chapel Hill Weekly. March 21, 1947.
Chilton, Mark. Farewell Forever, Old Road to Durham: A Short History of Rail Service to UNC. Self-published, Carrboro. 2009.
Hamilton, J.G. de Roulhac. The Papers of William A. Graham. Letter from David L. Swain, Chapel Hill, December 27, 1854. Vol. IV. Raleigh: State Department of Archives and History. 1961. 584-585.
The Hillsborough Recorder (Dennis Heartt, ed.)
University Station - Sale of 20 Lots. May 14, 1856.
Lefler, Hugh, and Paul Wager (eds.) Orange County, 1752-1952. Chapel Hill, 1953. 282.
Maschal, Richard. Wet-Wall Tattoos: Ben Long and the Art of Fresco. Winston-Salem: John F. Blair, 1998. 98-99.
North Carolina Railroad Company. Property Maps of the North Carolina Railroad. Vol. 3, Map 26. 1850-1851.
Orange County Register of Deeds Office
Deed Book 35, page 45 (1850)
Deed Book 47, page 406 (1881)
Deed Book 55, page 471 (1899)
Plat Book 3, page 79 (1942)
Plat Book 68, page 133 (1950)
Trelease, Allen W. The North Carolina Railroad 1849-1871, and the Modernization of North Carolina. UNC Press, 1991. 29.
University of North Carolina. Wilson Library, Southern Historical Collection #04071. B.F. Long Papers, 1903-1909.
University of North Carolina. Yackety Yack (student yearbook). 1911, 1916, 1920.
Vickers, James. Chapel Hill: An Illustrated History. Chapel Hill: Barclay Publishers, 1985. 96.
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