CHARLESTON, S.C. - Charleston's second best friend is coming home.
An 85-year-old replica of the Best Friend of Charleston, the first train in the nation to offer regularly scheduled passenger service, returns to Charleston this weekend.
The replica of the engine, tender and two passenger cars, based on the original plans, will be installed in a new free city museum in one of five old railroad sheds dating to the 1800s. The new museum is the last of the buildings to be refurbished during the past two decades; the first was the nearby city Visitor Center that opened back in 1991.
The replica "is an important part of Charleston history," Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said Tuesday. "We're very proud to install it in a historically appropriate and a very accessible place."
The steam-powered Best Friend of Charleston made its inaugural trip along a 6-mile stretch of track reaching northwest from Charleston on Christmas Day, 1830.
The Charleston Courier reported at the time that "the one hundred and forty-one persons flew on the wings of wind at the speed of fifteen to twenty-five miles per hour, annihilating time and space."
On the return trip, the newspaper reported, the Best Friend "darted forth like a live rocket, scattering sparks and flames on either side" and arrived back at its starting point "before any of us had time to determine whether or not it was prudent to be scared."
The railroad resulted from an economic downturn in Charleston in the late 1820s. Local merchants prevailed on the legislature to charter a railroad company that could connect the city with growing inland markets.
But the service of the Best Friend, forged in a foundry in West Point, N.Y., was short-lived. About six months after its initial run, the engine was destroyed in a boiler explosion.
Then, back in 1928, the full-size replica was constructed to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Co. The replica was restored in 1970 and given to the city in 1993 by Norfolk Southern. The South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company was a predecessor of the Norfolk Southern.
The railroad restored the replica again in 2007 before putting it on display at its corporate headquarters in Atlanta. That gave the city time to move ahead with its plans for the museum and the shed renovation, Riley said.
A restaurant will be located in the other end of the shed.
The train brought back to South Carolina this week by truck was displayed for a time Monday in Summerville and on Tuesday was being stored at Superior Transportation in North Charleston. The rails upon which the replica will be displayed will be installed at the museum on Wednesday.
The city is inviting the public to watch as the train is lifted into its new home Sunday morning. The museum is to open early next year.