Raleigh’s Historic Seaboard Railroad Station has stood as a symbol of the city’s past and cultural history for more than 80 years. For Ruth Little, a longtime preservationist and architectural historian, the connection to the historic building is much more personal.

“When I got married in 1973, we got on the train and went up to New England for our honeymoon,” Little recalls. “When they found out that it was our honeymoon, they actually gave us a private suite on the train. It’s always been my train station.”

Since Robert Logan Jr. bought the erstwhile train depot and warehouse buildings in 1991, the space has served as a beloved nursery, garden shop, and café. In December, the Logans sold the property to New York–based Turnbridge Equities, a real estate and investment company, for $8.5 million.

The company’s plans for Seaboard Station have some residents alarmed.

In a proposal that will soon go before Raleigh’s city council for a vote, Turnbridge Equities plans to demolish the station and replace it with a 12-story parking garage that would serve two 20-story buildings on either side. But in order to construct the buildings, Turnbridge needs the council to approve a rezoning request that changes the cap on building height on the property from seven stories to 20. The proposal will go to a public hearing in September, ahead of a potential vote.

The Seaboard train station held its grand opening in September 1942, and the station was used for decades for travel for millions of commuters. When it first opened, the station saw the departure of many North Carolina soldiers on their way to fight in World War II. It aided travelers until 1986, when CSX Transportation abandoned a stretch of rail from Norlina, NC, to Petersburg, VA, and passengers could no longer head north from Raleigh. Up until its closing, Seaboard Station was the only station that served daily, long-distance Amtrak trains heading north. Trains were rerouted and the station sat obsolete and abandoned until the Logan family purchased the station and it became Logan’s Trading Co., which is how locals know it best nowadays.

The fight to preserve the station has been ongoing since Turnbridge Equities purchased the property. Little, the preservationist and owner of Longleaf Historic Resources, says the landmark was never given the historic landmark distinction, which would have protected it from demolition.

“Since the 1980s, the Raleigh Historic Development Commission has been trying, and the state has been trying to list it on the National Register of Historic Places, to make it a local historic landmark, because everybody knows how important it is,” Little says.

But it never happened.

Little explains that throughout her travels and research, she’s seen historic locations and buildings preserved in unusual ways. She emphasizes that the Seaboard Station can be preserved and utilized for future Raleigh development and that demolition is not the only option.

Frank Harmon, a Raleigh writer, architect, and professor, is critical of the proposed demolition as well and agrees that Seaboard Station is architecturally and historically significant.

“In particular, I like the sheds,” Harmon says. “They’re remarkable. My students have studied them for many years, especially the way that the timbers are put together, the economical use of materials, and the thoughtfulness of integrating drainage from rain within the structure.”

As for its historic significance beyond aiding so many travelers, Harmon points out that Seaboard Station was built during the Jim Crow era and had separate waiting rooms for Black and white travelers—there’s no trace of that now, he says, but it’s a part of Raleigh’s history that needs acknowledging.

Matthew Brown, North Carolina’s former state historian, is an advocate for preserving Seaboard Station too. He and other residents had a meeting with Turnbridge Equities’ lawyer and a representative, Brown says, in which Turnbridge paid lip service to conditions in their proposal that they say will save a part of the station. But Brown says the conditions were drafted in a misleading fashion. Representatives from Turnbridge Equities did not respond to the INDY’s request for comment.

“They give all the conditions about saving this part of the building or that part of the building, and so on,” Brown says. “However, the building is defined elsewhere as just a section of the building …. If they say they’re going to save half of the building, they really mean half of this part of the building. At the very end, it says, ‘If we decide not to use any of these options, we’ll just tear it down and take pictures of it.’ That’s like saying, ‘We’re going to murder your grandmother, but we’ll give her a real nice funeral.’”

Brown says Turnbridge claims that some members of the Raleigh Historic Development Commission (RHDC) approved the demolition of the building. But he says he spoke with the commissioners, who said they told Turnbridge that if the company tore the station down, it would have to document the property before the teardown for archives. That, Brown says, doesn’t mean the commission approved of demolishing the station (RHDC members are bound from advocating for or against preservation of an undesignated building).

“I want to live in a city that is full of interesting buildings that are beautiful architecture that tells stories that make our lives interesting and beautiful,” Brown says. “I don’t want to live in a city of cheap, disposable generic boxes. That sounds like hell to me.”

Harmon, Little, and Brown all float the idea of turning the station back into what it once was: a station that will serve as a hub for inner-city transportation for Raleigh residents. It’s in a prominent location on West Peace Street near William Peace University, plus it still has intact railroad tracks and offers parking, which Raleigh’s current Amtrak station lacks.

In June, Raleigh’s Planning Commission voted to approve the rezoning application as presented. It’s an advisory recommendation to the council, but if four or more council members commit to opposing the rezoning if Turnbridge does not include a condition requiring preservation of the station in some form, the company could have to add such a condition or change its plans for the property.

Mayor Mary Ann-Baldwin says it’s her understanding that “the conditions have been strengthened to look at preserving the structure and moving it to another site on the property, or preserving pieces and incorporating them into the new design, similar to what was done at the Dillon in Raleigh’s Warehouse District.”

In an email, Baldwin says that the council will look at these conditions as part of its decision-making. As Seaboard Station stands, a developer could currently build seven stories there, by right, and not preserve any of the structure. Baldwin says she would prefer to see some protection of the historic station.

Three other members of the council also told the INDY that they don’t support demolishing the station.

At-large council member Jonathan Melton says he believes Turnbridge should find a way to incorporate the train station into the new development.

“I’ll be looking at the conditions thoroughly. I don’t think it should be demolished,” Melton says.

David Cox of District B supports preserving this landmark and points to the amount of community interest there is in saving it.

“I don’t buy the argument that [Seaboard Station] can’t be incorporated into their development plans,” Cox says. “Unless this developer comes up with a plan, I am not willing to vote for it as is. If they can’t come up with something, maybe another one can.”

Corey Branch of District C raises some concerns about the development as well as the conditions but was less certain about his vote. However, Branch says, he definitely does not want to see the landmark demolished.

Harmon, the architect, notes that in addition to demolishing a landmark and losing a piece of the city’s history, tearing down Seaboard Station would just be wasteful.

“There’s a lot of talk about sustainability,” Harmon says. “One of the most important ways to do that is to keep the structures that we’ve had. It goes without saying that the history of that structure is a common history that we all share. It’s not something that only belongs to that station, it’s part of our memory, part of the shape of Raleigh, and part of our future. Why would we even think about tearing something down as valuable as that?”

Little has enjoyed Seaboard Station in its latest iteration, long after taking the train to her honeymoon. She is hopeful that the station can be saved.

“Now, it’s my nursery,” she says. “It’s where I get my bedding plants and my seeds. I go there for lunch with friends. I’ve bought gifts like orchids for people who were sick. It’s been a really big part of my life.” 

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle. 

Comment on this story at backtalk@indyweek.com