On this day in WNC history: On October 3, 1880, the first passenger rail service arrived in Asheville at a small station along modern Depot Street. The engineer and passengers were greeted by clamoring onlookers.
During the mid-1800s, train service becoming increasingly popular for moving people, goods and supplies. At the same time, Asheville and several mountain resort towns had become popular destinations for people seeking to escape the summer heat of the lower elevations but prior to the arrival of the trains to western North Carolina, long distance travel was via stagecoach an often long and arduous journey. The railroads held the promise of easier and faster access to the region, but due to the engineering obstacles of overcoming the steep grades into the mountains, as well as the Civil War, train service would end at Morganton, NC for several years. It was not until the 1870s that trains began to punch through into the area, following routes cut and laid by the involuntary labor of several hundred incarcerated predominantly Black men and a few women. Finally, in 1879, after the construction of the 1,800 foot-long Swannanoa Tunnel (the longest of seven tunnels between Old Fort and Asheville) train service reached Buncombe County and on October 3, 1880, arrived in Asheville.
Passengers could reach Asheville by departing at the small depot in modern Biltmore Village at a station known briefly as Swannanoa (because of its proximity to the river). They could also ride to the end of the line at the Asheville Junction along modern Depot Street. Soon the train would make regular stops in Asheville, bringing tourists and even the wealthy George Vanderbilt. It was joined in 1886 by the Richmond and Danville Railroad, bringing passengers and freight to and from Spartanburg, SC, all while spur lines penetrated even further into the mountains, bringing with them hosts of changes to the region.