The first time I can remember going to the train station was when I was quite small. My father knew one of the Seaboard engineers, and arranged for us to see his engine one night while he was taking a train through town. Altough I was fascinated with big machinery at the time, I really can't remmber much about it, other than the fact the engineer told us how we could leave pennies on the track which would be flattened as he took the train out of the station. And although I suppose train traffic had been long on the wane even then, I also recall how active and noisy the place seemed to be, with idling engines and people bustling back and forth.
After that, we went down to the station about once a year, when my Aunt would take either the Silver Star or Silver Meteor from Jacksonville to Columbia. Often, this meant that she would arrive late at night, and I can remember that our ritual for going to pick her up would include a stop at the Krispy Kreme on Taylor Street (near the Big-T) to get hot doughnuts to eat while we sat and waited for the train.
I only took a train from that station once. When I was in elementary school, my mother arranged a "train party" for one of my birthdays (I suppose I was 7 or 8). Parents brought my classmates down to the station to catch the train to Camden. My mother rode with us on the train, and when we got to Camden, we were met by my father and some of the other parents who had driven over while we were en-route. We had a picnic with cake in a Camden park, then my father and the other parents drove us all back to Columbia. I don't recall much about the station itself on that trip except the for some 2nd-grade reason, a friend and I got fascinated by a stamp machine in the place and bummed some change to see it operate. In the event, it only dispensed half a stamp, which we thought was very noteworthy. (The train ride itself was noteworthy because the passenger car had a water cooler rather than a fountain, and it had neat conical paper cups).
If memory serves, the Seaboard Diner was also originally located at the station. After the station closed, it relocated down Gervais several blocks towards the river, and was finally torn down at some point during the vistafication of the whole area. I suppose that process is still not totally complete, as you have a bit of the old
left in with the new
I don't know if there is a word for the style of the building other than "train station", but it's a style that just screams train station even when you see it in small towns where the tracks have long since been pulled up. I think the current tenant, The Blue Marlin seafood restaurant has been in the main part of the station more or less since it closed. I believe the mix on the other side of Gervais has been a bit more volatile. My memory is not clear exactly clear on how the station originally worked. I guess that when a train was long enough, it was parked across Gervais during loading and unloading.
After 9/11, I got tired of how awful flying had become, and decided that the next time I had to go to DC, I would take the train. Of course I had to use the new station by then, but it was a nice experience. Riding the train is amazingly civilized. You can get up and stretch whenever you want to, or get a snack, and at mealtimes they serve real food in the dining car. I can see why my Aunt elected to take the train from Florida, especially before the Interstates were done. It is also, however, amazingly slow, and I can't see it ever catching on again. I was amused a few years back by the wrangle between the state government and I believe Wacamaw county about who was on the hook to fix the train drawbridge over the Inland Waterway at US-501. I think the county claimed that they had a "treaty" with the state dating back 50 years that said the state was responsible, and the state finally said OK, this time, but never again. That's been over ten years ago now, and there still hasn't been a train over that bridge and onto the Wacamaw Neck, and I fully expect that it is just as likely that one will pull up in front of The Blue Marlin first.