Because of some nice Tribune publicity, I had a surprise visitor last week, Claud Barnes, someone who once-upon-a-time I saw quite often, but one whose age (100) keeps him home more often than not.
I should be visiting him instead of him visiting me. He said he just wanted to tell somebody how important the depot was to the life of Woodstock in its younger days, and he chose me to be the listener.
Much of what he said has perhaps been said before, but not in these days coming from someone who was in the midst of those times.
The depot was built in 1912 to replace the original 1879 structure. This was the same year that Claud was born just a few short miles out Arnold Mill Road.
Claud moved into town with his newly widowed mother and his brothers around 1920. His memories of the depot and the trains begin even before then.
He is passionate in his recollection of the importance of the railroad to Woodstock history, its growth, its popularity, its identity.
He says EVERYTHING IN WOODSTOCK, in caps and bold, was somehow, in one way or another, tied to the depot and the railroad in those early days.
All goods passed through the depot, all services, all people who traveled, all the news that arrived, came on the train and was funneled through the depot.
Likewise, everything that went out … people, goods, news … went out via the railroad. Before most folks owned cars, they relied on the railroad. It was Woodstock’s connection with the outside world.
According to Claud, there were two freight trains northbound daily. The stop in Woodstock was to drop off on the siding track the boxcars that were loaded with merchandise, everything from hats (for Maude Chandler’s hat shop) to plows (to be sold by J. H. Johnston). And, as Claud would say, that means EVERYTHING.
“Uncle Posey” Dobbs was the one-man delivery service for farmers and families who lived out in the countryside and relied on Sears, Roebuck & Company for things they couldn’t buy in town.
Purchases also were made from drummers, traveling salesmen who would ride the train into town, “rent” a horse at the livery stable, and go door-to-door hawking Watkins Liniment and men’s Sunday suits.
Claud recalls that Uncle Posey would haul wood cook stoves, furniture, any large, bulky items.
Small items would arrive by U. S. Mail, also on the train. Letters and packages arrived on the passenger train. This train usually had three cars, at least one for white passengers, another for blacks and the mail, and another for baggage.
The station agent, along with townsfolk waiting to greet friends or family, would be ready with the cart to unload the mail, and would take it immediately across the street to the post office where another crowd would be waiting for their mail.
Put all this in reverse and you will see the southbound train stopping to pick up mail and passengers, and the freight train picking up empty boxcars or cars loaded with bales of cotton that had been purchased from the farmers by local General Mercantile store owners and sold to cotton mills elsewhere.
Big warehouses lined the railroad tracks and held the cotton until it could be sold and shipped.
Claud says that our depot is like a person, one who once-upon-a-time was going strong. In its golden years, before the days when automobiles and telephones were common, it was the center of all activity in Woodstock.
Its hustle and bustle was the heartbeat of the town. It was held in high esteem by all of Woodstock’s citizens. It was appreciated, it was used, it was symbolic of the abundant life enjoyed by the town’s citizens.
Now its productive and honorable position exists no more.
Compare that description with someone you know, someone whose productive years were also filled with hustle and bustle, who was at the center of his community, a good neighbor, friend, civic-minded volunteer, church worker, active in PTA and Boy Scouts and recreation, constantly giving to society, all but forgotten in his declining years.
Claud was not being critical, he was just stating facts. But he wants today’s generations to understand that Woodstock owes its very being to the railroad and depot.
Let’s remember her as she was in her young days, clothed in recognition, filled with ambition and prosperity, surrounded by a thriving community, and basking in her usefulness and ability to serve Woodstock.
Juanita Hughes is retired head of the Woodstock Library.