Small rail stations become ‘cultural assets’Kwak Jae-gu, a contemporary poet, recalled the era of nostalgic rail travel in one of his poems:
“Waiting for the last train to chug into the station, the snow falls in flakes outside, changing the lavender bed of Indian millet into white; the sawdust is strewn around the furnace, as some doze off and others cough in cold...”
Such scenes have long since faded but several humble train stations that still exist in suburban areas are to be protected as part of a new effort by the Cultural Heritage Administration.
Late last month, the government institution selected 12 small stations and whistle-stops across the country to be listed as “cultural assets,” meaning the government will protect and develop them for the benefit of the public.
“The stations are symbols of the early 20th century, and they hold memories and nostalgia,” said Kim Ji-seong, a researcher at the Cultural Heritage Administration. “We initially selected those that are valuable historically and that could also be used as a tourism resource once they are preserved.”
“Most of the small stations we chose are near forests, rivers and by the ocean where they have wonderful views so we recommend the sites for family outings this fall,” he added.
Ilsan Station, one of the selected whistle-stops in Gyeonggi province, is well known for its peaceful atmosphere and is currently being used as a filming location for a KBS television drama, “Pure-hearted at 19”.
Another station selected was the Hwarangdae station in northern Seoul, which is one of few remaining stops that were built to link the cities of Seoul and Chuncheon. It still has its original peaked roof and a gate that resembles a porch, just as when it was first built in 1939.
Although it was a popular stop for college students going camping up until the 1970s, it has since turned into a secluded area where local trains stop only three times a day, at the most.
Paldang Station in Namyangju, Gyeonggi province, which was also built in 1939, lies between the railway lines, rather than straddling them. From the station, a reservoir near Paldang dam and Mount Yebong create views to overwhelm viewers with memories of Korea’s older and more peaceful days.
The station was part of an important route in the past for travelers who wanted to reach the eastern Gyeonggi area. Because new roads have since been built, hardly anyone uses the trains any longer. The station ― and its surrounding scenery ― is beautiful enough to have been used as background in music videos, according to Kim Ran-gi, a researcher on the project.
Further south in the countryside is Yulchon Station (1930) in Yeosu, South Jeolla, which was built during the Japanese colonial period and is a wooden facility typical of those commonly found in the Japanese countryside.
During an interim study on the project, researchers faced complaints that the government was trying to preserve a “leftover from the Japanese colonial era” but they decided the facility had value culturally and from a architectural perspective, so it was included on the list.
Others selected sites are Songjeong Station (1934) in Busan, Dongcheon Station (1938) in Daegu and Nampyeong Station (1956) in Naju, South Jeolla, which was built of bricks after the Korean War.
by Lee Min-a