If you drive through Spartanburg, you will see the signs. Hub City Coffee. Hub City Landscaping. Hub City Finance.
But if you want to know how the city of Spartanburg got its ubiquitous nickname, you’ll head to the newly opened Hub City Railroad Museum.
It turns out Spartanburg became Hub City back in the late 1800s, when seven train lines fanned out from the city like spokes on a wheel. Spartanburg was a major transportation hub; by the early 20th century nearly 20 passenger cars passed through and many more freight trains carried goods, textiles, peaches and other produce to nearly every corner of the country. The museum, housed inside of the beautifully preserved Magnolia Street Train Station, had its grand opening on May 1st, and tells the story of Spartanburg’s history as a railroad town.
The small but inviting museum is chocked full of historic photographs and memorabilia from the heyday of the railroad age. There are seats from old railcars, signal lights, Morse code equipment and original documents dating back to the birth of the railroad.
But the real treasures of the museum are the railroad enthusiasts who developed the museum. On opening day, members of the Greenville/Upstate chapter of the National Railway Historical Society were on hand to answer questions, share their reminiscences about the Spartanburg railroad system, and celebrate the culmination of their two-year effort to open the museum.
One of the opening day attractions was a special, hour-long trolley bus tour through Spartanburg. Two members of the historical society acted as guides and pointed out the history of this railroad town that is hidden in plain sight: the location of a terrible, head-on train collision in the 1940’s, the original, wooden overpasses built by the railroads, the remnants of the city streetcar system, the original passenger train depot. It was a really pleasant ride and a fascinating look at the layers of the city. The tours were a special grand opening event, but the museum says that if there is interest, they will add more trolley tours in the future.
Perhaps the best part of the trip was hearing the delight in the voice of our tour guide as we approached a railroad crossing and he saw that the gates were down.
“I’m probably the only person you’ll ever meet who drives around town hoping that will happen," he said, "so that I can watch the trains go by.”