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
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.