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Friends of the Depot

Denizens of the Depot

Historic Cambria Depot
(Christiansburg Station)
630 Depot Street NE
Christiansburg, VA 24073


Cambria is the history of quiet lives in a quintessential railroad town. The mayor better known for his photographs than his governance. The minister's wife better known for her models than his sermons.

It is the history of the rest of us....

    • No "great" events happened here. No wars were started here; no treaties were signed here. That's not to say that nothing happened here. The original depot was burned by Averill's troops in 1864; and Wirt fought his last dual here in 1882, but that was about it.
    • No "great" people were born here. Thomas Jefferson never visited here. George Washington never slept here. We can't claim anyone of noble birth--no queens in Cambria's past, but Captain Charles Schaeffer built a church and a school for the African American community at the top of the hill; Washington Carver taught at the Christiansburg Institute just down the tracks; and there is a rumor that Elvis used the facilities at the depot a couple of times, (he hasn't been sighted since), but that was about it.
    • No "great" inventions were created here. No printing presses or flying machines or radios. That's not to say that nothing was made here. The Phoenix Furniture Company churned out side chairs, and the land ownership rolls listed blacksmiths and wheelwrights, cobblers and jewelers, and a host of other craftsmen and tradesmen.

If Jeremiah Kyle hadn't insisted that the railroad come through Montgomery County to provide a way to ship coal from his mine at Merrimac, Cambria would never have grown up around the station, Christiansburg and Blacksburg wouldn't exist in their current permutations, and Virginia Tech might have been located elsewhere.

Palmer's Store. Earl Palmer, the last mayor of Cambria, is best known for his photographs. Many of his photos are on exhibit on the third floor of Christiansburg Town Hall, at the Cambria Depot, in the Virginia Tech archives, and O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke.

While Cambria is a bit off the beaten track these days, in its heyday, it really was the center of Montgomery County. From 1868 to early 1950s, the Cambria Depot was the shipping point for all the goods coming into and leaving Montgomery and Floyd Counties, including the Towns of Christiansburg and Blacksburg. Every Sears mail-order house and Wishbook gift; every letter and package; every rug and factory chair and wedding dress sold by the mail order firms from New England to the West Coast; every Model T and Stutz Bearcat; and every secret decoder ring came through the Cambria Depot.

From 1868 until 1906, the Cambria Depot also served as the passenger station, including during the height of immigration. The depot and Cambria welcomed the miners from Wales and Czechoslovakia, farmers from Germany and Ireland, cabinetmakers and home-builders, masons and seamstresses. The languages spoken in the freight-house were as diverse as the last names in the County.

In 1906, the Norfolk and Western built a new passenger station on a site east of the old depot and on top of a small spring fed pond (and we wonder why we have stormwater problems), and the old depot was converted to a freight station and a maintenance of ways & engineering office. The new station was built, not because there was a need for a new passenger station per se but because of the political, social, and cultural demands for segregation. The old depot, one of only a couple of pre-segregation depots left in Virginia, could not be segregated because of the configuration of the waiting rooms.

In its heyday, Cambria boasted of five mercantiles and general stores, a china shop, a notions shop, the Phoenix furniture factory, a grocery store, a couple of banks, more than a couple of hardware stores, three mills of various types, a creamery, four hotels, and more than its share of bars, brothels, and pool halls. She also had her share of ugliness-- a history marred by the racial divides made worse by economic woes.

Like most railroad towns, Cambria went through a period of decline, resulting in consolidation with a larger neighbor (Christiansburg) in 1965. The construction of Route 11 and Route 8 in the 1930s, increased automobile ownership, and the introduction of truck transport and bus service from Roanoke following the end of World War II spelled the end of Cambria's role as the primary shipping and immigration point for Montgomery County, Floyd County, and eastern Giles County. By the early 1980s, Cambria had all but disappeared from the collective memory and the business district had become a derelict neighborhood one passed through without seeing.

A renaissance over the past 32 years has make Cambria, again, part of the collective memory, a thriving neighborhood, and a great place to visit. Come and explore the unique shops and the history, and if you listen quietly enough and let your imagination take over, you can still hear the songs of the gandy dancers, the rumble of the steam engines, and the jingle of coins.


Website published by M.H. Dorsett
Historic Cambria Depot
Questions or comments: Cambria Historian
Last Updated: 13 September, 2016