Riding the Rails with FOMZI

Bill Eccles narrated the tour to Rion and back, imparting the history of the former granite mining town which now consists of a zero population and a post office.

When the train pulled out of the yard at the Railroad Museum, these folks opted for the open-air car and the full scenic view of the rail route to Rion.

WINNSBORO — When the Friends of Mt. Zion Institute (FOMZI) took on the task of restoring their beloved former school in the heart of Winnsboro to its glory days, they were the first to admit their task was daunting on many levels. The building was in major disrepair after years of neglect, and the cost to restore it was somewhere in the prohibitive range. After convincing the Town Council of Winnsboro (the building’s owner) to give them the last chance to save the building, the next step was to raise funds to carry out their monumental plan.

Besides applying for grants and seeking donations, the group has planned a series of benefits, the first of which took place on Sunday – a two-hour rail tour from the Fairfield County Railroad Museum on Highway 34 to Rion via the Fairfield countryside with a stop for refreshments at the beautifully restored Ruff home and grounds.

With the “all-aboard!” at 4 p.m., the train pulled out. The more adventurous passangers opted for seating in the open-air car. Others traveled inside. Narrator Bill Eccles announced points of interest along the way, including a charming hunting lodge, the world’s smallest depot (according to Eccles), disarmingly beautiful scenery and a former granite quarry that once gave Rion life and 300 residents. Today, Rion has zero population and a post office. The quarry is an eerie graveyard of train relics, including a rusting engine and a string of cars now grown over with vines.

On the return trip, the train stopped at the historic Ruff home, now owned by Chandler and Toddy McNair who hosted a sandwich, desert and wine reception in a magnificent old barn. After a tour of the property’s gardens, general store replica and other outbuildings, passengers bid farewell to the McNairs and reboarded the train.

Future benefits planned for the restoration project include a barbecue event, an oyster roast and home garden tour. For information about how to become a member of FOMZI or the next benefit, call 803-960-8160 or 803-315-7653 or go to www.mtzioninstitute.com

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