The city of Roanoke in the southwestern region of the U.S. state of Virginia is a city that not too many travel writers talk about. Nestled in a valley, it has been called ‘The Star City of the South’ as it is the home of the largest man-made star in the world. The city is a rail fan’s haven as it has the main line of the Norfolk Southern Railway passes right through downtown. Until recently, it was the home to the Norfolk Southern Railway shops (now closed) which were originally owned by the Norfolk and Western Railway. In these shops, the world famous Norfolk and Western Railway Number 611 was built, and it is the only surviving ‘Class J’ locomotive in the world, and it remains one of the most popular locomotives in the world. The city is the home of the O. Winston Link Museum. Housed in the old Norfolk and Western Railway Train Station, it houses the collection of, of course, O. Winston Link who was the last know photographer of the steam locomotive, and his favorite locomotive is housed nearby in the Virginia Museum of Transportation which is housed in an old railroad freight house. Being a city built around the railroad, the city did not have Amtrak passenger service for many years until a few years ago when a station platform was built, and the city now has regular passenger service.
Before the Norfolk Southern Railway came to the city, it was the home to two competing railroads. The first was the famous Norfolk and Western Railway whose train station now houses the city visitor center, the O. Winston Link Museum, and the Museum of Southwest Virginia. Then you had a lesser known railroad known as the Virginian Railway. They were out popularized by the Norfolk and Western Railway who reached into the U.S. states of Ohio and Kentucky. The lesser known Virginian Railway mainly ran between the coal mines of West Virginia to the port of Norfolk. They too ran passenger service, and they also had a depot in Roanoke.
Just a short drive from downtown on a line that spurs from the main line is the Walnut Street Depot. It was here where the Virginian Railway served the people of Roanoke with regular passenger service. The name of the depot comes from Walnut Street which crosses the railroad tracks just north of the depot. It is considered to be the most substantial brick depot to serve the city. During the decline of railroad passenger service in the 1950’s, this depot was a victim of that decline with passenger service ending in 1959, and the railroad was merged with the Norfolk Southern Railway. It is one of the few surviving train depots of the Virginian Railway, and it is on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, only Norfolk Southern Railway freight trains pass here, but if you are ever here, you may feel like you are in the past.
The Walnut Street Depot is located on Williamson Road SE, and it accessible from Jefferson Street SE. The depot is part of a small historic park that memorializes the Virginian Railway. The depot is not open to the public. Parking is available on site, and the park is open twenty-four hours a day.
Welcome to Roanoke, Virginia, a haven of railroading, and a city that remembers its other railroad.