APEX — At the corner of Salem and Center streets sits the Apex Union Depot, an important relic of the town’s past and an integral part of its present.
The depot is even pictured on the Apex town seal.
The small one-story brick building at 220 N. Salem St. has witnessed the Great Depression, two world wars and desegregation in its 99-year history.
After the depot stopped serving a hub for rail travelers, it became the town library for a while. Now the depot serves as a visitors’ center and the Apex Chamber of Commerce office – a function it will continue to serve for the next five years.
The Apex Town Council recently agreed to renew the chamber’s lease. Starting Oct. 1, the chamber’s monthly rent will increase from $1,000 to $1,170. The rate will increase each year by 3 percent.
“It is truly a jewel in our central business district,” said Town Manager Bruce Radford. “Visitors naturally gravitate to it. It’s perfectly situated as a visitors’ center and chamber of commerce.”
The chamber’s offices have been in the depot building since 1996.
The town and the chamber are working on plans to celebrate the depot’s century mark next year.
“I’m a history buff to begin with. It’s neat coming into a building every day who has so much history,” said Graham Wilson, executive director of the Apex Chamber of Commerce.
Wilson’s office used to be the train station manager’s office.
“Literally every day when the train stopped, the station master would hand out a bag on a stick with the mail,” Wilson said. “Back then the trains also carried the mail. The train would drop off a bag and then the stationmaster would hand out the outgoing mail.”
The depot still bears the marks of its past.
Two barred ticket windows inside the building still exist. One window opens into the former whites-only waiting room, which is now the main lobby. The other window opens into the conference room, which used to be the blacks-only waiting room.
An office beside the lobby was once a waiting area for single or unaccompanied women.
The depot’s exterior also tells a story from times past. It is one of the few depots of its size built by the Seaboard Railway Company that was made with brick. Previously, smaller depots were made from wood.
But after a fire swept through the downtown in 1911 and again 1913, merchants got together and asked the town to mandate that all buildings be built with brick.
The original wooden depot, built in 1906, burned in the second fire. The rail company rebuilt it in 1914, according to records filed with the N.C. Office of Historic Preservation.
By 1911, the depot had more than 30 trains a day passing through.
During World Wars I and II, trains were stopping regularly, and some young ladies in town would meet the troops on the trains with care packages and notes, according to the Apex Historical Society.
The depot served the train travelers until 1959, when the railway discontinued passenger service, according to historical records.
In 1970 the Apex community library moved in. It left when the new Eva Perry Regional Library was built.
Today, the depot is used for public events such as the Jazz Festival, Christmas tree lighting, Latino Arts Festival and as a stage for the Depot Concert series.
“The building is so steeped with history,” Wilson said. “I tell people I have the best corner office in Wake County.”