Abbeville’s 128-year-old train depot torn down by CSX, despite pleas from city, preservationists

A Statement from Preservation Executive Director, Michael Bedenbaugh:

In response to some in CSX leadership and their personal misinformation campaign designed to discredit those dedicated persons who attempted to engage in good faith discussions to save the Abbeville Depot last week, we present the following information for those interested in our preservation efforts.

Read this very informative and professional online article we are referencing from WYFF4 in Greenville, SC.

I would like to cite a specific passage that quotes the media rep for CSX:

Just before 8 a.m. Tuesday, Bedenbaugh said CSX called police to the scene. He said officers told him and the others to move their vehicles so the demolition machinery could be removed. He said that at about the same time, workers at the site confirmed that the depot had been designated for preservation and would not be torn down.

Bedenbaugh said he and the members of the historical society thought the demolition was off, and they were relieved enough that they left the scene and went to breakfast.

Phelps said CSX officials never indicated at any time that the demolition would be halted, and no one in the third-party demolition crew would have had any say in stopping the demolition.

To clarify, I would have never believed the demolition crew had control over those decisions. We assumed on that early Tuesday morning that the order to delay demolition that had been promised to me by Mr Marco Milich on Friday had not reached the demolition crew on site. All we were doing on site was to ensure all internal communication systems of a huge cooperation had reached the crew from the headquarters in Jacksonville. We left after a CSX representative came to us and stated that the demolition had been delayed. I was appalled at the brazenness of a few people to manipulate the truth and quote a mis-statement to the press. I have attached the police report that proves our account was accurate.

Another quote from the article reads:

Phelps said those who wanted to save the Abbeville Depot had decades to propose and fund its purchase and preservation.

Bedenbaugh said there was no proposal in place and no funds raised because there was an assumption that nothing would happen to the depot. He said preservationists just learned of the planned demolition in April, and they had begun to organize efforts to save it immediately.

An updated statement from CSX reads:

“Mr. Bedenbaugh contacted CSX to express an interest in preserving the depot and to ask CSX to immediately stop plans to demolish it. We informed Mr. Bedenbaugh of what funds would be needed to transfer ownership and move his request forward immediately, and he informed us he could not meet those terms.

“At no time did an authorized CSX representative indicate to Mr. Bedenbaugh that plans to demolish the building were cancelled or that we were moving his request forward."

The local Historic Society in Abbeville had word that the Depot was in danger of coming down several weeks in advance of the date and they contacted the statewide preservation organization, Preservation SC, of which I am Executive Director, to request assistance with their advocacy. It was at that time that I tried to communicate to Mr Marco Milich in Jacksonville and left several messages over a period of a weeks’ time. He returned my call on Friday morning at 8:30 and indicated an interest in our proposal to help organize a move of the structure and he gave the go ahead to move forward, would delay the move and instructed me to get in touch with his subordinate Catherine Adkins to work out the logistics. No other conditions were ever communicated to me at that time. Under no circumstance would I “demand” CSX to “Immediately” stop demolition as their statement implies. Mr Milich and I had a very respectful and professional conversation where I communicated our abilities to help, and he communicated interest in allowing time to see if we could provide help.

By end of day the following Monday I had organized a steering committee with the help of members of the Abbeville County Historical Society and the town administration, an assessment by the moving company (Wolfe Movers* who had helped us move the Wilkins House from Augusta Road in 2014) and secured a property for it to be moved to (corner of Vienna and Church).

*See the link below to the quote and assessment from Wolfe Movers that was sent to Executive Director, Michael Bedenbaugh, after the demolition that states the expected cost of a move and that the building was in stable condition to be moved.

I left another message on Mr Milich’s phone giving him an update that Monday afternoon, and did mention that their was equipment moved onto the site and expressed hope they receive information of his communication to me that precious Friday.

On Tuesday morning, within 30 minutes of us hearing that the demo would be delayed, was the first time I heard from Ms Adkins and she made clear her intent to carry forth with the demolition. Only after pleading with her to at least give us a week to gather our cost information did she state the demand for a $50,000 retainer for CSX to hold in case we couldn’t raise the money and only if I could confirm that money was in hand for immediate payment would she halt the demolition any further.

I could not make that guarantee in good faith and she proceeded with the demolition.

I also never assumed they had cancelled the demolition of the structure “forever”, but I had assumed they had cancelled the plans to demolish the structure that morning.

We still have faith in the positive intentions of the vast majority of the good people who work for CSX both locally and in Jacksonville as well as their shareholders who hold corporate responsibility in a high regard. However, the actions of a few in the head office trying to mitigate “damage control’ by manipulating facts on the ground is counterproductive to creating an atmosphere of trust and good faith that is essential to move forward with solutions in regards to other properties owned by CSX that can be saved by positive action by the communities in which they are located.

Below is the statement from the president of our Board of Trustees:

As President of the Board of Directors of Preservation South Carolina, I find it deeply troubling that the corporate office of CSX would ask their staff to mislead community members and our executive director about their plans for the Abbeville train depot.  The very disturbing lack of regard for the communities CSX serves and for it's own reputation for truthfulness makes a troubling statement about a company that has a large footprint in South Carolina.  Train stations and freight depots have their own stories to tell and are often beloved symbols of a community.  Other rail lines have often helped communities in their efforts to keep these symbols for the public good. 

It is our hope that this sad episode will lead to a more responsible corporate policy in the future and that CSX will make a sincere effort to save our railroad history across South Carolina.

Sarah Spruill
President, Preservation South Carolina

Below are links to the police report and quote and assessment from Wolfe Movers.