In the heyday of passenger railroading, trains made many stops across the country including small towns. Many of these small towns had train depots that had a ticket agent who also was the town postmaster. As passenger service declined, many small towns were no longer served by passenger trains. The small-town train station was no longer used. What happened to many of these stations? Some were demolished. Why? As stations over time fall into disrepair, they eventually collapse with debris falling onto the tracks which is a real hazard for trains on active lines. Then there are those that are spare from demolition. Some are just left empty. Some became offices for the railroad company that owns the rail line. Some have been made into museums. Then there are those that have been converted into visitor centers. One of them is the old train station in Amherst, Virginia.
Some of you are saying, “I have seen this story many times before. It is the same old story. They took an old train station, spared it, and made it a visitor center. This place is no different than any other train station that was made into a visitor center. Therefore, I will not be making any visit to this place.”
That is true about many of the old train stations across the country, and the old train station in Amherst, Virginia has a similar story, but this train station has more to the story.
The current structure was built in 1913 by the Southern Railway to replace the original depot (that was demolished) that was built by the Orange and Alexandria Railroad who originally built the rail line. This station had a ticket office like any other station, but it is one of the few surviving stations with separate waiting rooms for whites and blacks during the days of segregation. In 1920’s, the south waiting room was made into the freight room during a renovation of the station. (The original freight house was south of here.) Passenger service ended in the 1960’s, and freight service ended in the 1970’s leaving this train station abandoned just like those other old train stations. The station was then in the ownership of the Mays Farmers’ Service Company who, in 1995, donated the depot to the Amherst County Chamber of Commerce, and it was moved half a mile from its original location to where it sits today.
Today, you can visit this old train station. It sits on a bluff overlooking the rail line that once served the old train station, and you can sit at a table and, if you are fortunate enough, and watch a passing train. You can also see and old signal, and the colors do change from red to green to yellow. When you go inside, you will not see the ticket office or waiting room. You will see brochures for local sites, and, what makes this place different, it houses a small museum with artifacts from the Southern Railway to include a few dishes used on the trains, a car step, a model of a Southern Railway train, and a conductors uniform. There is even a small gift shop.
The Old Amherst Train Station is located at 328 Richmond Highway (U.S. Route 60) just east of U.S. Route 29. It is open from 9:00am to 5:00pm from Wednesday to Saturday and 1:00pm to 5:00pm on Sunday. (It is closed on Monday and Tuesday.) When you visit, you will see that it is not just an old train station turned visitor center, but a little bit more. You can learn more at http://visitamherstcounty.org/destination/map/visitor-center/.