The town of Gordonsville is a small town near the center of the U.S. state of Virginia. It is named after Nathaniel Gordon who was the town’s first postmaster and established a tavern here in 1794. Some of the taverns famous visitors of the tavern was Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States of America and the drafter of the Declaration of Independence, James Madison, the fourth President of the United States of America and the author of the United States Constitution, and French Major General Marquis de Lafayette. The tavern was the center of the town until something came along in 1840. What changed the town? We all know it as the railroad.
Through the 1800’s, Gordonville was the junction of two railroads: The Orange and Alexandria Railroad and the Virginia Central Railroad. It was also the western terminus of the Louisa Railroad and was once the westernmost railhead in Virginia. The railroad not only made the town an economic center of the region, but it also played a critical role in the American Civil War for the Confederate Army supplying the troops in Richmond and Staunton. Gordonsville was the home off the Exchange Hotel, a luxury hotel built in 1859 for passengers on the Virginia Central Railway. In 1862, the hotel became a hospital for wounded Confederate soldiers who were brought here by train.
After the Civil War, the town continued to thrive, and it became the ‘Fried Chicken Capital of the Universe’. How did the town get that title? The railroad played a major role. As trains passed through the town, women approached the train and served chicken and biscuits to the passengers on the train.
In the 1870’s the railroad lines were taken over by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway who also had shops in the town. Passenger trains continued to pass through.
In 1916, a fire destroyed the town. A new line was built through nearby Barboursville. Gordonsville was no longer the economic center of the region.
Today, the trains still pass through the town now owned by CSX. The train station that served passengers is gone, and passenger trains no longer stops here for passengers, but the yard tower still remains. (It is not open to the public and is off limits to visitors.) The freight depot is also still standing. (It is not open to the public but can be seen from the street. The passenger depot was between the freight depot and the tower.) The railroad shops no longer exist. The Exchange Hotel remains, but you cannot spend the night there. Why? It is a museum that displays the hotel as a hospital, but there is an exhibit that tells the history of the railroad in Gordonsville. You can get more information about the museum and read more into the hotel’s history at https://www.theexchangehotelmuseum.org/. There is the Magnolia House next to the tower that served as a hotel (not open to the public). You can read more about the town of Gordonsville at https://www.townofgordonsville.org/.
Gordonsville, Virginia is at the junction of U.S. Route 15 which goes through the historic district to the town’s attractions, restaurants and shops and U.S. Route 33. It is part of the ‘Hallowed Ground’ driving tour which runs from Charlottesville, Virginia to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The historic district is a Virginia Registered Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The town may be quiet, but it still stands as a town at the crossroads of history.