‘Al Capone may have sat on them.’ Amtrak salvages history from Raleigh’s train station.

Now that passengers are catching Amtrak trains at Raleigh Union Station, the city’s old brick train depot on Cabarrus Street will soon be demolished.

But not all of the 68-year-old station is headed to a landfill. Two key features — the canopy that sheltered passengers on the platform and some of the wood benches in the waiting room — will be reused. Again.

The canopy and the benches were originally parts of other train stations and are decades older than the Raleigh depot where they found a second life. Now they are considered historic artifacts worth preserving, said Allan Paul, deputy director of the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Rail Division.

The canopy was built in 1890 for Raleigh’s first Union Station, at the corner of Dawson and Martin streets. The station, which is now used as an office building, faced Nash Square, while its passenger platforms stretched out back parallel to Martin Street.

In 1950, Southern Railway moved the canopy to its new passenger depot on Cabarrus Street, taking a straight structure and making it fit over the new station’s curved platform.

“They actually had to do some finessing to make it work,” Paul said. “But Southern Railway was fairly well known for recycling components from old stations into new stations.”

The waiting-room benches were recycled, too. When the Raleigh station was renovated and the waiting room expanded in 2000, seven classic oak benches were brought from Chicago where they had been used by passengers in Chicago’s Union Station when it opened in 1925.

“Al Capone may have sat on them once upon a time,” Paul said.

Benches in the waiting room of Raleigh’s old Amtrak station on Cabarrus Street came from Chicago Union Station. They have been returned to Chicago now that the old Raleigh depot will be torn down. Richard Stradling rstradling@newsobserver.com

By 2000, many of the benches at Chicago Union Station had been moved to storage, said Jay McArthur, who oversaw the renovation of the Raleigh station for Amtrak. When McArthur learned that Amtrak had benches gathering dust in Chicago, he asked if he could have some for the stations in Raleigh and Charlotte.

“We literally just sent a team of employees to Chicago with a U-Haul truck and loaded up the benches and brought them to Raleigh and Charlotte,” said McArthur, who recently retired from Amtrak.

The Raleigh benches have already been removed from the Cabarrus Street station and shipped back to Chicago, where Amtrak plans to refurbish them and put them to use again.

“They visited us for 18 years, and now they’re going home,” McArthur said. “I’m very pleased about that. It made me feel good to use them and not spend a lot money and very pleased to get them back to Chicago.”

The benches in the Charlotte station will eventually be returned to Chicago, too, when the city’s new downtown train station opens sometime in the coming decade.

Meanwhile, workers began dismantling the platform canopy at the Cabarrus Street station last week. Half of it will go to the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer, where it will eventually be erected over the platform of the Barber Junction depot where museum visitors board trains that move around the museum grounds.

Paul said the 128-year-old wood canopy is in pretty rough shape and that about a quarter of it is beyond saving.

“Unfortunately there are some areas that the deterioration has advanced to the point that we won’t be able to salvage those materials,” he said. “But an effort is being made to salvage as much as we can.”

Some of the canopy’s metal support brackets and at least one of its wood beams will go to the N.C. Railroad, the state-owned private company that owns the Cabarrus Street depot. The railroad has no plans for the pieces of the canopy but will keep them for their historic significance, said Andrew Tate, vice president for real estate.

Tate said the railroad has not determined what it will do with the old train station property after the building is demolished.

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