Erskine and community volunteers restore Due West Depot
Honorary alumnus Richard Haldeman of Due West, who retired as Erskine’s director of public relations in 1995, contributed this story about the restoration of a landmark linked with Erskine’s history.
Seventy-six years after the last passenger boarded the “Dinky” in Due West, the Due West Railroad Depot has been repaired and repainted and the interior cleaned to contain clippings and photographs of the four-mile line that served Erskine students and town residents from 1907 to 1939.
In 2015 nothing remained of the Due West Railroad except the depot building, which over time with little maintenance was deteriorating. A group of Due West townspeople received permission from Erskine College, current owner of the depot, to restore the building.
Erskine provided paint and paint-related supplies. Local donations paid other expenses. Due West residents Hillard Allen, a retired engineer, and Lynde “Plug” Clements supervised local volunteers in repairing and painting the one-story rectangular building, located at the corner of Depot and Dode Phillips Streets on the edge of the Erskine campus.
Volunteers painted the depot exterior maroon and trimmed the doors and window frames with cream paint. They braced floor joints, reset doors, and redid doorknobs. They obtained an exterior sign for the depot and installed a bulletin board with old photographs and newspaper stories inside.
Allen and Clements were assisted by John Simpson, Sue Brock, Kim Ferguson, Parker Christie of Aramark, Erskine College senior Jeron Crawford, Jo Ann Griffith ’56, and Hillard Allen’s wife, Carolyn Griffith Allen ’57. The mother of Carolyn Allen and Jo Ann Griffith, Wilma Miller Griffith, had arrived at Erskine in 1928 on the “Dinky,” a nickname given by Erskine students to the rail line because of the little engine that pulled the passenger and freight cars.
Only in Due West
For 32 years the depot served South Carolina’s most unique railroad, a town-owned four-mile line connected to the Southern Railroad at Donalds. The rail line brought students to and from Erskine, started athletic teams on trips to as far away as Miami, Fla., carried mail each day to and from the Due West Post Office, connected Due West residents to the nation, and shipped goods by Railway Express.
Railway Express service continued into post-World War II years, as a truck carried goods to Donalds for Railway Express shipment until the railroad at Donalds was closed. It was modern truck operation that had eliminated the need for the Due West Railroad in 1939. The railroad was sold to Japan for scrap metal in 1940 (only, as legend has it, “to be returned by Japan” after Pearl Harbor the next year).
Robert Stone Galloway, also publisher of the A.R. Presbyterian newspaper, was president and treasurer of the Due West Railroad. The headline in a feature story in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal on December 11, 1921 describes the railroad well. It reads:
“Due West Railroad Has Unique Record; Head of Railroad Tells Its History. In Fourteen Years of Existence, Line Has Never Had Accident, Run Only One Train on Sunday, Suffered No Labor Troubles, Has Never Hauled a Pint of Whiskey and is Free From Debt.” The story adds that no whiskey was hauled “even in pre-Prohibition Days.”
The Herald-Journal states that its story is based on “an interview given a Greenwood newspaperman by (Railroad) President R.S. Galloway, the directing genius of the system.” Galloway is described: “When President Galloway is not supervising the operation of his railroad, he is editing the A.R. Presbyterian, the official organ of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in South Carolina. Six days he does this and on the seventh not a cog moves; he and all the rest of Due West rest or go to worship in the old, white church.” (The current ARP Church building had not yet been constructed.)
A short and profitable run
An article by Virginia Putnam, posted in the restored depot, describes the railroad’s history. Though a railroad for Due West had been discussed since the 1850s, it was finally on December 12, 1906, that a citizens’ meeting declared, “Now is the time.” Dr. James Boyce, president of the Due West Woman’s College, chaired the meeting, which was also attended by R.S. Galloway, Professor Paul L. Grier (father of future Erskine President R.C. Grier), Dr. Jim Wideman, Dr. Jesse Bell, J.C. Tribble, E. Patton Kennedy, A. Selden Kennedy, Dr. Frank Pressly, and Robert C. Brownlee, Sr.
They elected Galloway president and treasurer and Dr. Bell secretary of a board that also included Selden Kennedy, Henry Brooks, Frank Pressly, Bruce Clinkscales, and Robert Brownlee. The first and second engines for the railroad, plus a combination passenger and baggage car and a flatcar, were purchased from an elevated line in New York City. Later there was a third, more powerful, engine. They ran on tracks leased from Southern Railroad.
The Due West Railroad was chartered in 1907 and began operation in December of that year. From the beginning, it was subject to pranks from Erskine students, who blew the steam whistle for notable events, such as football victories over South Carolina in 1917 and Clemson in 1921. Galloway answered critics of the shortness of the line with the retort, “It’s as wide as any.” Asked how the Due West Railroad handled debts, he answered, “There are no debts.”
In accordance with Due West mores, the train never transported alcoholic beverages and made only one exception to operating “on the Sabbath” (Sunday). That was when a student at the Woman’s College had an attack of appendicitis and had to be rushed to the hospital.
The first engineer of the railroad was Jim Rowland. After his death, these duties passed to his nephew, Rowland Hawthorne, who had earlier served as depot agent. The first conductor was James E. McClintock. Other longtime employees included Maxie Donald, depot agent, and Walt Young and Lewis Ellis, who served in various capacities.
The Due West Railroad turned a profit during each year of its existence and enriched its stockholders when it was sold. Though few members remain of the pre-World War II generation served by the railway, restoration of its depot will remind generations to come of this invaluable part of Due West and Erskine College history.
See more photos here.