The Piedmont and Northern Railway was an extremely unique development in railroading in the rural American South in the early twentieth century. Conceived as an electric interurban linking the prosperous cotton mill towns of the rolling Piedmont region of North and South Carolina, the Piedmont and Northern (P&N) was the brainchild of tobacco and utility magnate James Buchanan “Buck” Duke, also President of the Southern Power and Utilities Company.
Originally known as the Piedmont Traction Company, the P&N development began its planning stages in 1911 with a goal of constructing a line between Charlotte and Gastonia, connecting the street railway system of the two cities. The Charlotte Electric Railway system already extended as far as Hoskins, a few miles west of the city. Construction of the 19.8—mile link from Hoskins to Gastonia was begun in 1911 and the first train was operated over the line in April, 1912. Interurban passenger service was inaugurated with appropriate fanfare on Independence Day, 1912. The new and fast electric passenger cars gained immediate acceptance and for many years were the backbone of passenger transportation between Gastonia and Charlotte. In 1916 a 3.19 mile branch line to Belmont was completed and placed in operation, giving the railroad a total of 26.91 miles.
As early as 1915, the P&N was proving its worth. The annual report for that year showed the line grossing its first million dollars, nearly a third of that income coming from passenger fares. In terms of freight, the P&N hauled not only textile products and machinery but also fruits and vegetables, sand and stone, coal and coke, grains and even automobiles. The demands of the increased business resulted in the construction of a new branch of the P&N. Belmont Mills, at Belmont, North Carolina, had such a heavy demand for freight service that the owners requested the P&N build a spur to Belmont to serve their plant. This three mile branch to Belmont was completed in 1916 between Mount Holly and Belmont. To serve the mill workers, the P&N added a passenger service with three small city-type trolley 2`Belmont by Southern Power and prominent Charlotte architect Charles Christian Hook was hired to design the Belmont Train Depot.
Over thirty years, the Railroad Station building type evolved to what we now readily recognize as railroad depots. Rectangular buildings, with a large side parallel to the train tracks, mostly single story to facilitate movement of baggage and freight. A trackside bay window was designed and built to give agents better visibility along the tracks.
The Belmont depot is one of the most unique of P&N stations, made all the more significant by the fact that it is also one of the last to remain standing and in good condition.