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Seaboard Air Line Station, Gervais Street: 1991   34 comments

Posted at 6:29 pm in Uncategorized

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.

"All Aboard!"

Written by ted on August 26th, 2008

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34 Responses to 'Seaboard Air Line Station, Gervais Street: 1991'

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  1. I miss the Seaboard Diner. That was a great late night after drinking greasy spoon.


    27 Aug 08 at 9:12 am

  2. That old train station is embedded in my childhood memory. My grandmother was from Florida and we met her at the train and put her back on it many times. The Silver Meteor came through at 2:00 am or something like that, so my parents would put me to bed with clothes on, then wake me when it was time to to the station. That ride through town with everything closed and NO other traffic was very surreal to a 5 year old.

    I would actually stand on the tracks and look south, watching for the locomotive's headlight, while my parents sipped coffee in the Seaboard Diner. When the train stopped it did span several blocks and we often had to walk a long way from the station to find Granna. Old black porters would haul luggage on ancient wooden wagons with iron wheels. It was a dreamlike collection of machinery, smells, sounds and things you never encountered anywhere else.

    I miss the Seaboard Diner terribly. It was a literal time capsule. Ate there often after closing down the clubs in my 20s. I usually got Columbia's best hangover preventive, Stella's Psycho Burger, (it was misspelled "Physcho" on the sign) which was a huge cheeseburger all-the-way with chili(!) and a fried egg(!!).


    27 Aug 08 at 9:12 am

  3. Oh yeah, I remember those wagons! It was like something out of the 19th century!


    27 Aug 08 at 12:18 pm

  4. Well, yes, when the train was stopped at the station, it did hold up traffic on Gervais, and possibly on other streets parallel to Gervais, as well. I remember boarding with my family to visit relatives in Miami. We were way down at the south end of the track; I think it was beyond where the shelter actually stopped. And I believe I remember picking up and dropping off my (now ex-) mother-in-law there a time or three.

    Bruce Robb

    8 Sep 08 at 3:41 pm

  5. Bruce Robb - are you Claudia's brother?


    8 Sep 08 at 7:45 pm

  6. The Seaboard Diner was a trip to go to after a night of drinking in 5 Points. This was before the Vista was conceived and the area down Gervais consisted of abandoned warehouses. In other words, it was not a nice place to visit especially at night. The Seaboard clientel consisted of mostly old haggard black men. A cot was provided in back for the drunkess one of them to crash. We would usually be the only whites in the place which wasn't saying much considering the small size of it. But it was a fun experience and the food was great.


    5 Oct 08 at 1:35 am

  7. I would call that Prairie Style architecture.


    6 Oct 08 at 7:16 am

  8. I used to work at Beulahs Bar and Grille. They occupied the 902-C section of the building next to Dixie seafood and Scott Bros. Restaurant. That was one of the best nightclubs in Columbia. Beulahs was the first live "blues music" bar in the vista (that I can remember) I live in Portland Oregon now and I am so amazed at how much the city has changed since I left back in 99'. I sure do miss the good ole days there in Colatown.


    2 Dec 08 at 7:15 pm

  9. If anyone that visits this site remembers Beulahs please post a message. I still wonder what happened to all of the people that used to work there. What happened to "juicy", Summer, Bonsuelo and Andy?


    2 Dec 08 at 7:19 pm

  10. I went to Beulahs about a dozen times to see Elliot and the Untouchables. Always a great time!


    2 Dec 08 at 8:55 pm

  11. I used to go to Beulahs all the time before the "Vista" really came into existence. I loved going there. No idea what happened to any of the people.


    3 Dec 08 at 6:02 am

  12. When a graduate student at USC I took the train from this station innumerable times, traveling to Henderson, NC. Return journey got me back to Columbia about 3AM and there was always activity at the station. Train to Henderson left in afternoon and I vividly remember one conductor who definitely did not approve of males carrying umbrellas! Fond memories from the past.


    20 Feb 09 at 6:09 pm

  13. The spammer's comment above brought this post to my attention, mostly because it makes lament the loss of "willy's" down at the one end of this strip.

    Ted - We need a post on Willy's, otherwise this one will do. I don't think there is still antyhing in the old location, but last I heard they (Blue Marlin) use it for private parties.


    4 Jun 09 at 10:24 am

  14. Hate to say it, but I don't think I've even heard of "Willy's"...


    4 Jun 09 at 12:38 pm

  15. It was a little bar one or two doors down from the Blue Marlin. Last time I was there had to be '99 or '00. They had some acoustic guitarists/singers that would set up out on the sidewalk from time to time. One of the bartenders/waitresses went to App State with a buddy of mine but I couldn't tell your her name if I had to...


    4 Jun 09 at 1:29 pm

  16. Yeah they had a jukebox in there too and a buddy of mine would always play nights in white satin everytime we went there.

    Mr. Bill

    4 Jun 09 at 1:37 pm

  17. Willy's was one of the first bars open when the Vista really got going in the late 90's. My understand is that it was owned by the same group that owns Blue Marlin, but obviously was not as upscale. They had pretty good food, and for lunch had some daily "blue plate specials" that were really good. They are also memorable because they typically had a particularly nice looking waitress staff. Kind of like the 5points Groucho's location in that regard.

    At night, it was a typical starting point before heading on to other bars/clubs. I *think* that one of the owners bailed and started "Billy G's" which is where Liberty Tap Room stands now. Billy G's owner was Billy Gause (sp), the former USC b-ball player, but I'm not completely positive he was involved with Willy's though.

    Like steve says above, they were usually good about having some type of live music and had a nice outdoor area for seating, which was even heated during the winter months.

    In the early 2000's, Willy's went through some of your "rules" before closing up and being repurposed as a tex-mex type place, strangely enough. They then later closed for good. I think the last time I can recall eating there was during football season in 2006, so they closed up shop sometime later.

    Willy's Foxfire Grill on Bower Pkwy was some sort of offshoot of the original Willy's, but I'm not positive of the connection. I think they've since changed their name too.


    4 Jun 09 at 1:45 pm

  18. I found an account on flickr that has a few photos of Columbia from the 70s. Some are of when Richard Nixon came to town, a few are of the Train station while it was still running. I can post the link if anyone wants to see it.


    31 Aug 09 at 11:33 am

  19. Go for it!


    31 Aug 09 at 12:33 pm


    Look around this man's pictures. Pretty neat stuff.


    31 Aug 09 at 12:43 pm

  21. Very nice set. Everyone should take a look at it, and not just the train pix!


    31 Aug 09 at 1:18 pm

  22. I just took a look -- is that snow on the ground? That would be Columbia's Great Blizzard of '72!

    Our power was off for five days and it went to about 45 in our house. I remember watching my tropical fish die one by one.


    31 Aug 09 at 2:53 pm

  23. I remember when the Seaboard Diner moved operations down Gervais St. after it closed in 1991. I ate at the new location once. I'm not sure how long it lasted in its new location.


    5 Mar 11 at 4:21 pm

  24. I go to college in Columbia and take the train there. Yes, it still leaves and arrives at strange hours of the morning. My friends and I sometimes go to Starbucks or Cupcake and I love seeing the "old" train station. My dad told me that when he was in boot camp at Ft. Jackson, he took the train to Columbia. He remembers the old station. I've still not yet eaten at the Blue Marlin.


    18 May 11 at 11:55 am

  25. I have family in Richmond I visit periodically and I've looked into visiting them via Amtrak and I'd depart the station here at 4:08 AM. I would like for CLB to have better train service on the railliner but no such luck...


    18 May 11 at 12:27 pm

  26. The big memory I have of this place is when the Freedom Train visited in 1976. It was a red, white, and clue steam locomotive that pulled cars containing exhibits on American history.


    13 Jul 11 at 1:09 pm

  27. Seaboard Diner was never the same after it moved - I think I too only ate at the new location once. I think half the flavor of the Psycho Burger was the accumulated grease (and other stuff) that permeated not only the grill but the very essence of the place. My best friend and I also often used that place to cap off a night's rambling.


    25 Aug 11 at 4:41 pm

  28. Here is some shots of the old Seaboard passenger station back when it was in operation:

    Looking north at the tunnel, where a rare daylight Amtrak train emerges"

    Looking south, where the trestle is located. A CSX passenger excursion had just cross over:

    An overview of the passenger station, where a CSX freight passes by the station:

    A shot of the old "Seaboard Diner":


    Robyn Watts

    5 Dec 11 at 2:19 pm

  29. In the late 70's and early 80's, the Seaboard Diner was the ONLY place where you could get a "meal" at 3:00 am in downtown Columbia. I was a paramedic at the time and went there often for a sausage dog with chili or a GREAT hand pattied cheesburger. We would sit at he semi-cicular counter and watch all the other strange creatures that were awake at that ungodly hour.

    A local musician named James Etheridge wrote a song based on what he remebered and what his father told him about the Seaboard. If you ever get to see Etheridge and Kimpland play, ask James to play "The Seaboard" in honor of his father. He'll love you for it.

    Does anyone remember the diner on Gervais that was run by the same sweet old lady for MANY years. Her name and the name of the diner has slipped my mind. When Paramedic's would come in she would make other people get up so that they could sit and eat because, she would tell the poor displaced customers, "These guys have to eat so they can go save somebody!" "Dixiecrats" were 25 cents each. They were a sausage link with mustard wrapped in a piece of sandwich bread. My mouth waters even now!


    26 Dec 11 at 8:35 pm

  30. I have a page devoted to the old station as well at

    that also includes some of F. Will Martin's photos (linked above) as well as some not seen. The best part of my page is an e-mail I was sent several years ago reposted there with the man's permission about the station in the 60s.

    Joe Hinson

    25 Feb 13 at 1:44 pm

  31. The Seaboard Diner moved to Gervais Street and was called The Seaboard Cafe. From the circa 1940 photo I have, The Seaboard Cafe appears to be east of the Seaboard Diner and facing Gervais. (near WhitAsh)


    4 Apr 14 at 2:31 am

  32. @Cheap jerseys - Just say no to drugs.


    29 Oct 15 at 8:12 pm

  33. I like to know name of elderly black woman who either owner Seaside Diner back in late 40's . I have a painting done of her wearing a Seaboard Diner apron. please call me if you know her name. Can send Pic of painting if needed Daniel 864 633-7252

    daniel putnam

    19 Aug 18 at 10:40 pm

  34. I was born in Feb 1951, and my Mom arrived in Columbia (from Blacksburg VA) in the summer of 1950. (I was inside of her.) She came by train...would she have gotten off at the Lincoln St station or Union Station? I think it must have been the Silver Meteor for some reason. (BTW she said when she got off the train it was so damn hot she almost got back on and went back to VA...)

    John Nelson

    15 Sep 22 at 8:44 am

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