Station marks 100th
SHEPHERDSTOWN – A belated 100th anniversary party is planned for the Shepherdstown train station from noon to 6 p.m. Oct. 16, featuring activities for all ages, including art displays, live music and a multimedia presentation on the history of Shepherdstown’s train station.
“It’s sort of a thank you to the community for saving the building and keeping it healthy,” said Sylvia Ellsworth, president of the Station at Shepherdstown, a non-profit group that oversees the day-to-day maintenance of the structure.
According to reports from the Shepherdstown Register, the train station was first completed on Nov. 20, 1909. On Dec. 1, 1909, 10 days later, it was open for business. Construction on the station was expected to cost $18,000, but blasting and other unexpected work raised the price to $20,000.
Also, the station was originally segregated, with waiting rooms for whites and blacks.
One prominent original feature of the station, now missing, was a 250-foot-long rail platform that lined the track in front of the station.
People at the time marveled over the modern construction, and the design of the station was well received by the public. The design is a standard template used by the Norfolk and Southern Rail Road.
Trains first rolled into Shepherdstown in 1879 as part of the Shenandoah Valley Rail Road. The impact on the community was enormous and nearly immediate.
Rail lines were the 18th century equivalent of highways or airports. Through the station flowed a stream of passengers, freight and information which made the station central to the life of townsfolk.
Also, local farmers could more easily and quickly get their produce to markets and ports in the East Coast.
Rail thrived in America as the primary means of long-distance travel until the post-World War II era. The rise of commercial passenger aviation and automobiles spelled the death of nearly an entire industry of passenger rail service. By 1957, the last passenger train rolled out of the station.
For decades, the station sat idle. Over time, it began to decay. When Ellsworth first moved to Shepherdstown 20 years ago, she said the station had fallen into disrepair.
“There’s not even words for it, the windows were all broken out and part of the roof had collapsed.” said Sylvia.
Then in the 1990s, a plan to raze the structure and turn it into a parking lot was met with disapproval by locals and a movement was formed to save the station. It eventually culminated in the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd appropriating $500,000 for the purchase of the train station from Norfolk Southern and related renovations.
In a ceremony in his Senate office on Sept. 25, 1996, the transfer of ownership of the train station to Shepherdstown became official when, as part of a legal formality, Byrd donated $1 in quarters to Shepherdstown to purchase the building from Norfolk Southern. The quarters are still on display in the Train Station.
Now the station is once again a thriving hub of community activity, hosting several events throughout the week.
“We do yoga, watercolor, church, bellydancing, kiddies programs, library programs and all kinds of fundraisers and musical events,” said Ellsworth.
There’s even a Unitarian congregation that meets in the station every Sunday morning. The rental income generated by events held at the station is used for maintenance and repairs.
“It’s been an excellent resource for town activities,” said Mayor Jim Auxer on Wednesday. “The Train Station Committee has done a great job of maintaining the building, and the corporation really appreciates it.”
This year the Station At Shepherdstown is hosting a membership drive. Members who join by the end of this year will receive a “golden” rail spike for their patronage.
Ellsworth says that the membership funds are the backbone of the non-profit organization. “Without the memberships, we couldn’t do the maintenance, pay the painters or fix the plumbing,” said Ellsworth. “Our memberships are very, very important to us.”