The Alabama Midland Railroad Depot located in Ashford, Houston County, is a fully restored Victorian-era structure that houses a museum, exhibits, and a conference center. A restored caboose and cargo rail car adjacent to the depot are part of the museum. The museum is operated by the Ashford Area Heritage Foundation.
The depot was constructed in 1888 for $4,500 as a combined passenger-freight facility and served as a way station on railroad routes between Bainbridge, Georgia, and Montgomery, Montgomery County. The town of Ashford was incorporated in 1891 and quickly became a key center of naval stores production (including pitch, tar, and turpentine), cotton, and produce because of the railroad access. In May 1891, the depot escaped a devastating fire that destroyed four stores, which comprised much of downtown Ashford. In 1899, Alabama Midland became part of the Plant Investment Company, which was absorbed into the Atlantic Coast Line (ACL) in 1902.
ACL continued to operate the depot until the late 1970s when Jack Jackson, an executive with ACL, approached C. O. Adams Jr., owner of the Ashford Gin Company, about ACL's intent to close the depot. Ashford Gin Company was the largest customer of ACL between Bainbridge and Dothan at that time. To save the depot from closure and demolition, Adams accepted transfer of the property to the Ashford Gin Company. When the Ashford Gin Company ceased operations in 1984, it transferred ownership of the property to the city of Ashford.
After a concerted effort by the Estelle Manley Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Alabama Midland Railroad Depot was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Alabama Historical Register in September 1985. A historic marker was unveiled in a ceremony co-sponsored by the Historic Chattahoochee Commission and the Ashford Depot Committee. The city of Ashford completely renovated the depot between September 2004 and November 2005, when the restored building was dedicated. The former station masters office holds the main collection of railroad artifacts in the museum, and the warehousing area of the depot is now a conference center. Additional rooms connected to the depot hold office space and other artifacts.
The Alabama Midland Railroad Museum focuses its exhibits on the "golden age" of the railroad era in southeast Alabama. In the station master's office, visitors can view a variety of railroad-related artifacts such as telegraph keys, carbon microphone telephones, locks, clocks, Victorian attire, shipping trunks, typewriters, railroad documents, mail carts, and historical pictures. Many of these artifacts were donated by former railroad employees. The museum also contains a fully-restored, 1950s-era caboose with cupola bucket seats, bunk beds, and other features that are accessible to visitors. The caboose also is equipped with teaching tools such as charts showing hobo symbols and flash cards that tell the history of railroading. The museum is open to visitors by appointment, and there is no charge for admission.
The conference center provides space for up to 60 participants; it is used for celebrations, concerts, corporate training, business meetings, weddings, reunions and other similar activities. The depot's covered loading dock also may be used to host several hundred participants. The conference center and loading dock are available for rent on a partial- or full-day basis.
Members of the Ashford Area Heritage Foundation conduct tours of the museum by appointment and during city-sponsored events such as the annual Harvest Day celebration and Christmas parade. Annually, more than 60 events are held in the depot facilities, attracting thousands of participants.
S. G. Bruner Jr.
Ashford Area Heritage Foundation
Published February 6, 2011
Last updated September 8, 2011