By Ralphine Major
Wonder how many times those words were shouted out at the Southern Depot?
Located on West Depot Street just off the northern end of Gay Street in Knoxville, Tennessee, was the train station that was once a thriving place with trains coming and going. Instead of airplanes, trains were the primary means of long-distance travel in the early 1900s. The Southern Railway Station was a hub of activity in earlier years as passengers boarded trains to travel to destinations across the vast United States. One can imagine soldiers leaving the station or coming home during World War I and World War II. For many years, the circus unloaded at the depot and followed with a parade down Gay Street.
In 1992, the Southern Railway Terminal and Freight Depot was listed as one of the fascinating sites in downtown Knoxville that then Knox County Executive Dwight Kessel invited people to visit during Knox County’s Two Centuries celebration. It was one of Knoxville’s many prominent places listed on the National Historic Register.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to experience the train era on a tour retracing the steps of Knoxville native Bill Wallace. We had lunch on a passenger train car parked at the depot and watched a short movie about William (Bill) Wallace, the Knoxville doctor who answered the call to serve as a medical missionary to China. On the Sunday that Bill Wallace left Knoxville, many members of Bill’s home church, Broadway Baptist, walked with him down to the Southern Depot to board the train that would take him to San Francisco, California. There, he would board a ship for his long journey overseas to China where he served for many years before dying in prison. Though its place in history has changed somewhat, the Southern Depot still holds a special place in Knoxville’s landscape of historic sites.
Words of Faith engraved on Bill Wallace’s tall granite monument in Greenwood Cemetery: “For me to live is Christ, Phil 1:21.”