Life on the West End (Looking back)

By Bill Shepard

“Look up, look down that railroad track, hang down your head and cry; the longest train I ever saw just went passing by.” These lines are from a song that I vaguely remember. Maybe someone reading them can help me remember!

The railroad track shown in this picture is a section of the Atlantic Coastline track that follows a straight line through the old cotton mill village in Darlington. Memories of the track and the long trains being pulled along by the large black steam engines are forever recessed in a mind that reaches back in time more than 90 years.

If one looks closely at the picture, he or she can see a top portion of the old cotton mill that stood at that spot for nigh three quarters of a century! Like the old steam engines that moved along the track belching clouds of black smoke, the spiraling clouds from the mill’s smokestack settled over the village. As for the mill, it gave way to the demolition crews long ago. It now lives on in the minds of the few who remember.

As one moves along the track, they can see a portion of the bridge that spans the waters of Swift Creek. When the track was being built, three concrete tunnels were built inside the embankment to allow the stream to pass underneath the track and on its way to rendezvous with Black Creek miles away. Note the car passing over the bridge in the picture.

This writer remembers that in 1928, a bridge at this same spot was washed away during a flood caused by a hurricane blowing along the East Coast. It rained and it rained and kept on raining! For lack of communications, no one in the village knew about the hurricane!

Debris from fallen trees soon clogged the tunnels, preventing the waters from the rain and the little creek from passing onward. The railroad embankment finally gave way. The onslaught of water washed everything in its path away including the bridge! A large trestle was built to span the opening in the railroad embankment. One can see the devastation caused by the flood on page 76 of Horace Rudisill’s “Pictorial History of Darlington County.”

Should that pair in the picture continue on, they will pass over the trestle and the large mill and onward to where the track passes West Pearl Street. Onward a short distance, the train depot once stood, and was a busy station when I was a boy! Freight trains and passenger trains passed along this track frequently each day.

The pair walking along the track are this writer and his granddaughter.

I wonder what they were talking about?

The little girl is now a teacher living in Florida.

If it was possible to back this picture back a ways, we could see the little house where I lived the first 10 years of my life. The track passes along only a few yards from my house.

I have lasting memories of the little boy standing in his front yard, waving at the engineer, fireman and hobos as the long train went rumbling along. When they would wave at me, I would run inside and tell Mama.

The passenger trains often came to a stop when passing, and I would see folks sitting inside.

They would be reading a newspaper or book. They would look at the little boy gazing at them, and often wave at me, and I would wave back at them. I would hasten into the house and tell Mama.

I just knew that these were some of the rich folks I had heard Mama and Daddy talk about. They would say that rich folks lived a way up north and rode the trains to Florida. I would wonder where Florida was! Someday I would know!

Author: Rachel Howell

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