Since 1959 there’s been an unusual find in the middle of Freedom Park. Nestled among the park’s picturesque lake and trails, between its sports fields and creek, is an old locomotive that traveled many miles before ending up in its now permanent parking place.
The Gaineseville-Midland 301 was made in Philadelphia in 1920 and shipped to Florida where it pulled cars between small towns on the state’s coast for more than three decades.
In 1951, it was purchased by Gainesville-Midland, which gave it the number 301 and for eight years it went back and forth between Gainesville and Athens, Ga.
By 1959, steam engines were becoming less popular as diesel engine trains took over the tracks. The city of Charlotte had asked a company called Seaboard for a locomotive to display. That year, Seaboard purchased Gainesville-Midland and its 301, which they deemed the perfect gift for the Queen City.
The old locomotive rolled into town that fall and was installed at Freedom Park with a new paint job and a new name: The Freedom Park Express. Originally, it served as glorified playground equipment with children crawling across and under it.
But eventually that was seen as dangerous and the train is now in a fenced-off area, with access to only its conductor’s chamber for those who want to get a taste of transportation during the early part of the 20th century.
WHAT: A 98-acre public park between Charlotte’s historic Dilworth and Myers Park neighborhoods
WHERE: 1900 East Blvd.
PRO TIP: Today, the train has been repainted with the number and name it had when it originally arrived in Charlotte. You’ll find it near the park’s central parking lot.
This story comes from Sarah Crosland’s book “Secret Charlotte: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure,” which you can buy on Amazon here or at local shops like Park Road Books and Paper Skyscraper. It’s a great read for anyone who loves Charlotte — and we’re not just saying that because she’s our former boss.
Photo: Colby Alvino