In 1898, the town of Aiken built a beautiful, three-story railroad depot in the middle of town. Most train stations at the time, at least in a town the size of Aiken, were utilitarian; the Aiken Train Depot was an exception.
The Aiken Train Depot welcomed more than 50 years of passengers before its graceful lines and elegant cupola were demolished by the railroad in 1954. But, thanks to the efforts of the Aiken community, the structure has been rebuilt according to the original plans and now houses the Aiken Visitors Center and Train Museum.
The first floor of the spacious building houses the Visitors Center and a helpful information desk. Walk up the stairs to the second level and you will find a series of scale dioramas representing the Southern Railway as it was in 1916.
The dioramas' creators gave careful attention to detail and historical accuracy. In one case, they heard a rumor that one of the railway workers took home leftover paint from painting the depot's exterior to paint his own home. They tracked down the man's descendents, who still lived in the same house and, thankfully, had not repainted it. The makers of the diorama were able to match the paint for the model to that of the house. In another model you will see tiny figures swimming in a water tower. The scene is not a flight of fancy but the result of the creators hearing a story about how he and his friends used to sneak up to the water tower to go skinny-dipping in the summer.
The museum also is full of interactive exhibits on the history of the railroad and of the area's history. In one corner of the museum you can decide whether it's true or false that Bisquick and other modern conveniences were invented by the railroads.
Outside the museum there are three antique railroad cars, two passenger cars from the early 20th century and a caboose from the 1960s. The museum hopes it will soon raise the funds to convert these cars into "dining cars" that can be used for special events and possibly offer lunch for the community.
The Aiken Visitors Center and Train Museum is located at 406 Park Avenue SE and is open Tuesday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free, so all aboard!