Saluda Historic Depot, Saluda

Specialty Museum · Hidden Gem · Museum
This is a rare opportunity for the citizens of Saluda to unite in saving one of its most treasured historical landmarks. The historic depot is a modern icon of Saluda’s beginning and subsequent prosperity with the coming of the train bringing passengers up the steepest Saluda Grade in the country. Because brave men built a railroad up a steep mountain, the small mountain village of Saluda is a thriving community with a historic downtown district with prospering shops and restaurants. The town is surrounded by mountains and deep valleys in the Green River Gorge. These natural resources have drawn outdoor adventurists to bicycle, fish, zip line, kayak and hike mountain trails. These enthusiasts eat, stay, and shop in Saluda’s businesses. Every Saluda citizen, whether born here or those who got here as fast as they could, will be asked to support this project.


To unite the citizens and visitors of Saluda to acquire and preserve the historic Saluda train depot for future generations and to develop it and operate it into a heritage museum and visitors center, emphasizing the railroad history and the Saluda Grade.


To create and sustain a landmark tourist destination at the historic Saluda train depot that reaches a broad audience that preserves and promotes Saluda’s heritage, celebrates its culture, and showcases its natural resources.

History of Saluda and the Railroad

Long before the railroad cut through the steep gorge along the Pacolet River to what is now Saluda, North Carolina, there was Pace’s Gap or Pace's Ridge. Located on Saluda Mountain, Pace’s Gap was a crossroads for traders who carried goods and drove livestock along the path where the old Howard Gap wagon road to the Blockhouse Fort met the Winding Stairs Road down to the low country of South Carolina and Georgia. Pace’s Gap was home to a drover’s inn run by the Pace family, which provided accommodations for weary travelers and provided pens and fenced areas to secure their livestock for the night.

When the first passenger train of the Asheville and Spartanburg Railroad chugged up the Saluda Grade on July 4, 1878, Pace's Gap was forever changed. By February, 1881, the growth and prosperity of Pace's Gap had escalated to the point that it was chartered as the town of Saluda, named for Saluda Mountain, which is actually not a mountain but a group of mountains with the Saluda River at its foot. It is said that the Saluda River was named for an Indian chief whose name means "corn river" in Cherokee, which sounded to white men like "Saluda."

Spread over seven hills, Saluda has an elevation of between 2,096 to 2,200. Considered an enchanted destination, it is rich with history, arts and entertainment, fine dining and plenty to see and do. Saluda, located primarily in Polk and partially in Henderson Counties, celebrated its 130th anniversary in 2011, and has a population of just over 700 people.

Though the Saluda Grade opened to rail traffic in 1878, the idea for tracks across the mountain came about as early as 1832, when the demand became great to move goods, livestock and humans up the mountain away from the stifling heat of the thermal belt of South Carolina and Georgia into the new settlements further west. When surveying began, it became apparent that the best route was the one taken by the early settlers to travel to the new lands. This trail traversed the rolling foothills of the Piedmont and continued up the steep grade into the Blue Ridge Mountains. It wasn't until 1877 that Capt. Charles Pearson, former Confederate Army officer, was assigned chief engineer. Pearson's ultimate goal was to bring the line of the Asheville and Spartanburg Railroad across the Blue Ridge from Tryon to Asheville. This created quite a challenge since the early surveys revealed no route was available to ascend the mountains at a reasonable grade. Rejecting the route along Howard's Gap, the old trading path, due to the instability of the ground due to underground springs, Pearson selected a route which followed the Pacolet River up the steep gorge, an almost vertical wall. This route begins at the bottom of the Melrose Mountain at 1,081 feet and climbs to the town of Saluda cresting at an elevation of 2,097 feet. In 1879, due to the depletion of financial resources and manual labor, the North Carolina legislature ratified a bill to provide financial support and to allow convicts to work on the construction of the line. The price paid by all workers, free or otherwise, was high, due to sickness and accidents resulting in a high death rate. Despite this adversity, the tracks reached the top of the grade three months after the convicts began work on the project, resulting in the completion of the steepest mainline standard gauge railroad in the United States.

Built by the Brotherhood of Clerks for Southern Railway in 1926, a simple farm-house style lodging named, “ The Mountain Home,” was created as a summer getaway for railroad employees and their families. This is now the elegant mountain retreat, The Orchard Inn and is on the National Register of Historic Places as the Railway Clerks’ Mountain Home.

Brief History of the Depot

The Saluda Main Street Historic District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, with the depot listed as a contributing structure. Here is a description of the depot from that listing:

The exact date of construction for the former Saluda Depot is not known, but it was likely built during the first decade of the twentieth century. Some local tradition claims that it replaced the earlier depot, which had been located on Main Street in the center of town, in 1910. The "new" depot was built about a quarter of a mile away, parallel to the north side of the tracks and west of the present U.S. 176 overpass. In a town which owed its existence to the railroad and which depended on the railroad to transport its many summer dwellers and tourists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the depot was one of the most important buildings in town. In 1983 the depot was moved to its present location in order to assure its preservation. Although the depot is now positioned perpendicular to Main Street and the railroad tracks, it is architecturally very intact. It is a long rectangular structure defined primarily by its flared hipped roof with eyelid vents, widely overhanging braced eaves which cover the encircling platform walk, and stick style detailing. The combination passenger and freight station has German siding on the exterior, bay windows, six-over-six sash windows, and large freight doors as well as pedestrian doors. The well-preserved interior retains its unpainted vertical beaded board sheathing and paneling and some counters. In its new location, the depot has new chimneys, a new foundation, and an added railing around the outside.
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Saluda Historic Depot reviews

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TripAdvisor traveler rating 4.5
25 reviews
  • Very informative and friendly staff that knew the town and its history well! As a mom of boys who have loved trains since they were youngsters, this was a sweet treat to learn more about Saluda and...  more »
  • The depot has been beautifully restored and it offers an interesting history about Saluda. There are short films, dioramas and other relics of the train economy of the town. It’s free and the whole...  more »
  • What a gem! The building is the original and it’s packed full of history and cool items from the past. Staff was knowledgeable too.
  • Small, compact, and VERY interesting. Free. Nice folks. Great history, especially for train buffs. Loved it.
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