Ever since the Virginian Railway passenger station at the intersection of South Jefferson Street and Williamson Road was heavily damaged by fire on January 29, 2001 the site has been an eyesore. Jeff Sanders, President of the Roanoke Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society said, “It is almost hard to believe today is happening.”
In a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday, the Historical Society commenced restoration of the passenger station. The chapter entered into a contract with G & H Contracting, Inc. of Salem on January 27 to perform phase one of the restoration. Their bid was the lowest at $493,000.
Phase one, at a total cost of $625,000, will cover the acquisition and stabilization of the building, asbestos abatement and roof replacement. That phase is fully funded, said Treasurer James Cosby, and he expects it will be completed by July 20.
Total cost of the project is projected to be $2.3 million and though phase two has yet to be put to bid Cosby feels fairly confident about the accuracy of the estimate. They have raised $1.2 million in grants and private donations and anticipate about $700,000 in tax credits. “Depending on how the phase two bids come in it may be fully funded or we may need to go out and raise a couple hundred thousand more dollars,” said Cosby.
The work on brownfield asbestos contamination has already started. “We are trying to complete the project in a year though that may be a little ambitious,” Cosby admitted.
The passenger station served the Roanoke Valley from the time it opened in early 1910 until Virginian passenger service was discontinued in January 1956. Norfolk Southern Corporation donated it to the Chapter in 2005.
Phase two consists of the interior work of the two buildings, landscaping and the parking lot with completion in about one year.
Sanders thanked the chapter members, restoration partners, grantors and donors for the funds raised including Norfolk Southern and the many public officials and employees who have helped over the past eleven years.
Skip Salmon, chapter secretary and president of Friends of the Virginian Railway said, “Many of the Friends of the Virginian are retired railroad employees who once worked for the Virginian. They are delighted that the reconstruction has begun.”
The historic train station will serve partially as a transportation museum and a comfort station for the Mill Mountain Greenway. The museum will display exhibits and artifacts from the Virginian Railway to promote awareness and appreciation for the history of this railroad and its role in the development of Roanoke and Southwest Virginia. The site will also include a memorial to former Virginian Railway employees.
Salmon paid respect to members who had passed away over the eleven-year long process of raising money and preparing for the restoration. Wednesday a lighted railroad lantern burned in remembrance of them.
The restoration of the Virginian Railway Passenger Station will provide many benefits to the City of Roanoke, its citizens and visitors. The project preserves a piece of Roanoke’s railroad heritage. It is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places because of its importance in rail transportation and its unique architecture.