Cambria & Her Depot: A Historical Timeline

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Friends of the Depot

Denizens of the Depot

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




Welcome to Cambria.

As anyone will tell you, all roads do in fact lead to Cambria, although the town is know for absolutely nothing...or, more to the point, nothing of significant historical consequence.

The Virginia-Tennessee Railroad was first chartered as the Lynchburg and Tennessee Railroad.


The Virginia-Tennessee Railroad chose the site for the Christiansburg Depot a mile north of courthouse square on the north side of Zion Hill on land donated by the Montagues. (Visit Schaffer Memorial Baptist Church and the original Christiansburg Institute on the top of Zion Hill). Originally, the V-T looked at a route that would have come up Elliot Creek, thru what is now Sugar Grove, and thru downtown Christiansburg. Because of local concerns, mostly political, the route was changed to the current route. Although blamed on local politics, the route was more likely due to the location and access to the coal mines at Merrimac, owned by the Montagues and Jeremiah Kyle. It probably didn't hurt that the Montagues gave the railroad the land for the new depot and Jeremiah Kyle footed part of the bill to construct the rail line up and over the Christiansburg Grade (a 1.3% grade over, roughly, an eight mile span) The Virginia Tennessee climbed from 905 feet in Salem and the Roanoke Valley to 2, 052 feet in Christiansburg and was the steepest grade on the Virginia Tennessee Line.

The Christiansburg Grade extends from the western end of Shawville, through the "Big Tunnel" at the midpoint of the climb, to a the S-Curve and signal along the eastern edge of the Cambria rail yards. The middle length of the S curve travels 100 yards along the Eastern Continental Divide, which means that the streams between Shawsville and the top of the grade flow into the Roanoke River and eventually into Albemarle Sound on the North Carolina coast. The waters to the west flow into the New River and eventually the Ohio, the Mississippi, and the Gulf of Mexico.

The Huckleberry spur provided access first to Merrimac and later Blacksburg.


The Virginia-Tennessee Railroad reaches Christiansburg. (Take the Dixie Caverns Exit in I-81 and follow US 460/Rt.11 towards Christiansburg. The route parallels the Virginia-Tennessee rail line past Lafayette, founded in 1826, and through two railroad villages: Elliston and Shawsville before climbing Christiansburg Mountain. Stay on 470/Rt.11 until you reach Depot Street in Christiansbug to reach the Christiansburg Depot.)


The location of the first permanent station is open to debate, based on the boundaries of the two towns (Bangs and Cambria). Although some have suggested that it was built at the north end of Main Street (on the site, more or less, of the "new masonry depot built in 1906), Main Street did not extend town "danger hill" until much later. The records of the West Salem Land Company suggest that the original depot is under the Christiansburg Station (Historic Cambria Depot) at the intersection of Depot and Cambria Streets. The 1906 depot was built on what would have been a small spring fed pond and primary water source for the proposed "town of Cambria" in the 1890s The 1906 Cambria Station is currently being used as the "maintenance of ways" office for the district.

January 13, 1857
Tthe same year the original Bangs depot was constructed, Thaddeus Fairbanks patented (Patent # 16381) the first railway scale/ platform scale. An example of the Fairbanks counterweight scale can be found in the freight house at the Historic Cambria Depot. Note: Bangs was the original name of Cambria.


The first depot, plus commissary buildings, warehouses, post office, and a recreation hall, were burned by Union troops under the leadership of Brigadier General William W. Averell. According to an account from D.M. Barnes, Special Correspondent for the New York Times (Published 6/10/1864, document #80295664), Averill's troops forded the New River and struck the depot at Christiansburg. For more information on Montgomery County during the Civil War, visit the Montgomery Museum and Lewis Miller Regional Art Center on Pepper Street in Christiansburg.

1867 to 1870

The Virginia and Tennessee Railroad constructed the "Christiansburg Station" in 1867 (completed and opened in 1868) as part of the rebuilding effort under the leadership of its new president, General William Mahone. During this period, Mahone consolidated the Virginia and Tennesse with several other roads, forming the Atlantic, Mississippi, and Ohio Railroad. The alternate name for the AMO Railroad was "all mine and Ophelia's" Named after William Mahone's wife. It is said that Ophelia Mahone was an Anglaphile, and she named most of the depots, at least at the eastern end of Virginia, after British locations (towns, counties, villages, castles, etc.). According to records, Mahone began the reconstruction of his railroad on the east side of Virginia and moved west. Today, there are only three Virginia Tennessee structures left (Christiansburg--1867/1868; Rural Retreat --1870; and Abingdon 1869). Of the three, only the Rural Retreat depot is oriented towards the track. The Stations at Christiansburg/Cambria and Abingdon were oriented towards the street and necessitated the need for the Norfolk and Western to build a new depot to accommodate segregation.


The Bangs Post Office (original name of Cambria) opened near the depot.

The Christiansburg Depot, in addition to providing passenger and freight service for Montgomery, Giles, and Floyd Counties, also served as the transfer point for the resort at Yellow Sulphur Springs, six miles to the northwest and Mountain Lake, nearly 30 miles to the north.


The A.M.&O. Railroad went into receivership. Purchasers of the railroad in 1881 renamed the railroad Norfolk and Western.

January 12, 1877.

First major labor strike against the railroads and is often referred to as the "Great Railroad Strike." The strike was the result of railroads drastically cutting wages to offset financial losses earlier in the decade. As one observer noted:

"The strike," an anonymous Baltimore merchant wrote, "is not a revolution of fanatics willing to fight for an idea. It is a revolt of working men against low prices of labor, which have not been accomplished with corresponding low prices of food, clothing and house rent." (Digital History Project, 2010)

It should be noted that the date is open to question. A couple of sources identified the starting date as February 12, 1877. Many of the Pullman Porters who served the rail line between Roanoke and Bristol hailed from Bangs/Cambria, as did many of the maintenance of ways workers. Indeed, there were strong ties between the depot and the African American community for nearly 100 years (1867-1960). For more information on the Pullman Porters, please see Lyn Hughes's An Anthology of Respect: The Pullman Porters National Historic Registry of African American Railroad Employees (Chicago IL: Hughes Peterson Pub., 2007). Hughes's book also include excerpts from Nikki Giovanni's "Train Rides."

January 14, 1878

In Hall v. Decuir, 95 U.S. 485 (1878), the United States Supreme Court ruled that common carriers (rail, ferry, riverboat, and other modes of transportation) could not discriminate based on race (13th Amendment) in interstate travel. The decision did not, however, stop railroad companies from discriminating.

The Christiansburg Station (Historic Cambria Depot) and the newer Cambria Passenger Staton provide an example. The depot has two waiting rooms: one is a general waiting room on the trackside of the building; the other is a lady's waiting room (street-side). The waiting room on the street-side of the depot has far fancier woodwork and is removed from the immediate grime and noise of the rail yard. While there is no record of the Historic Cambria Depot having ever been segregated, the African American passengers may have boarded through the unheated freight house. According to a Civil War specialist at the University of Virginia, the Christiansburg Station is one of only three "pre-segregation" depots left in Virginia (stations built and opened before the Presidential election in 1868).

Because of the building's orientation towards the street, the requirement of providing "separate but equal" accommodations necessitated building an entirely new station further up the track. The same occurred in Abingdon. When the 1908 station was constructed, it also had two waiting rooms, although the use distinction between the two of them was based on race rather than gender.

March, 1882

In July, a duel was fought near the depot by J. Stuart Crockett of Wythville and John S. Wise of Richmond. Both combatants arrived by rail with their seconds, having selected Bangs (Cambria) as a convenient middle point between their respectibve places of residence. The duel, resulting in no injuries, was fought a short distance up Yellow Sulphur Springs Road (now Cambria Street). The duel was Wise's last and led to his much publicized decision to fight no more duels (an example which was instrumental in ending the practice in Virginia).

Read more about the Wise-Crockett Duel: JOHN S. WISE WILL NOT FIGHT.; A SPICY LETTER IN REPLY TO EDITOR M'CARTY'S COMMENTS (New York Times, March 8, 1884)


The community took the name of Ronald in honor of a local Confederate hero, Captain Charles A. Ronald, the leader of the Montgomery Highlanders ( Company E of the 4th Virginia Militia). This is in some dispute. According to Earl Palmer, the former (and last) mayor of Cambria, the town's name was changed back after Captain Ronald debunked with roughly half the town's funds. There is no documentary evidence to support the story, but the story is still told as fact and is part of the "oral history" of the town.


The community changed the name from Ronald back to Bangs and finally settled on "Cambria" in 1906. While the origins of the name of Cambria have been attributed to a variety of sources (the Welsh and a rock formation), the name actually came from the West Salem Land Company and was the name of a proposed "new" town. While the depot resided in both Bangs and Cambria (both incorporated by the Virginia General Assembly), the town's boundaries shifted east in 1906 to match the boundaries of the proposed new town, even though the West Salem Land Company was long since defunct.


Cambria, c. 1905

The Town of Cambria was officially incorporated. In the same year, the new masonary passenger station was erected at the site 400 yards east of the original station and the old depot was converted for use solely as a freight station.

The conversion of the building as a freight facility resulted in several significant alterations to its structure. The freight section was cut away from the passenger section and raised 25 inches, creating the existing short gable on the west end of the freight room. A problem with rot under the front section (waiting rooms) was solved by cutting 25 inches off the entire bottom of the passenger rooms (look at the height of the chair rail when you visit the Cambria Toy Station). An additional thirty feet of freight room was added to the east end of the building, and the original slate roof was replaced by a standing seam tin roof.

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Cambria, 1920
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The Christiansburg Station (Cambria Depot) was retired from service by the railroad and ownership subsequently shifted to Cash Lumber Co. and later to Mitchell Sales.


Cambria consolidated with Christiansburg, a decision not supported by the majority of residents of Cambria. While it officially became known as North Christiansburg, it unofficially continued to be referred to and is still referred to as Cambria.

The following sections are currently under development and will be updated after the first of the year (2016)
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Depot Versus Train, 1981

The eastern end of the freight section of the Cambria Depot (the Christiansburg Station's popular name) was demolished by two box cars from the stub siding behind the building. In one sense one could attribute the actual restoration of the original depot building to this mishap for the section destroyed was the thirty feet added in 1906!



Under the Raze Order. 1983

The Christianburg (Cambria) Depot was acquired by Helen and James Dorsett for the purpose of its rehabilitation and restoration as an historic structure and a useful building in the life of the Cambria community.

1983-1985 Lessons in Preservation


Rehabiliation work began in January. While all of the basic structural work was completed during the first year of rehabilitation, much remained to be accomplished before the project was finished. Part of the remaining work involved rehabilitating the community's view of the depot (especially given the predominant view that the building should have been razed and turned into a parking lot). Dorsett Publications relocated to the Depot in the late summer of 1984.


The Christiansburg Depot was placed on the Virginia Landmarks Register on April 16th and was endorsed by the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission for placement on the National Register of Historic Places. The Depot entered the National Register of Historic Places in December, 1985.


The Cambria Historic District enters the National Register of Historic Places, as does the East Main Historic District and the South Franklin Historic District.


Community Housing Partners renovates the Dew Drop Inn, the "third leg" of the commercial center of Cambria. The Dew Drop Inn welcomes two new businesses: Embroidery Etcetera and the Tech Express.


Amelia's Italian Restaurant opens their doors in the Cambria commercial district.


Cambria celebrates 150 year birthday. Dorsett Publications opens the Cambria Toy Station in the trackside waiting room.


Following the approval of a town house development within the boundaries of the Cambria Historic District, the Christiansburg Town Council and Planning Commission begin discussing a possible historic district overlay ordinance to help protect the Town's historic resources.


Cambria Depot Museum opens on Labor Day.



Website published by M.H. Dorsett
Historic Cambria Depot
Questions or comments: Cambria Historian
Last Updated: 30 August, 2016