After more than eight years of dedication, blood, sweat and tears, and lots of grants and donations, the Marlinton Depot is back to its old self – at least on the exterior.
The Depot was the center of attention Friday as community members, Marlinton Railroad Depot Inc. and Pocahontas County Artisans Co-op members gathered to dedicate and celebrate the new chapter of the Marlinton mainstay.
The Depot, which was originally built in 1901, suffered a devastating fire in 2008, nearly reducing the historical landmark to ash and soot. Through the diligence of MRDI members and the graciousness of organizations in the county and state, funds were raised to restore the facility.
While the railroad no longer comes into Marlinton, the Depot is in operation as the Pocahontas County Artisan Co-op’s 4th Avenue Gallery.
At Friday’s gathering, the MRDI and Co-op honored memories of the Depot’s past as well as the individuals and organizations who helped get it to where it is today.
Local historian and MRDI member Bill McNeel gave a brief history of the railroad in Pocahontas County and the Depot itself.
“As we know, it was the timber resource which is what many people were looking to develop,” McNeel said. “One of the major developers is what became West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company, and they bought a big chunk of timber up on Cheat Mountain. They planned a paper mill in Covington and they wanted the spruce timber to come off the top of Cheat Mountain and go to Covington, so the C&O Railroad said there was enough guaranteed business to build this rail line.”
The rail line was built in Marlinton in 1900, and the depot was added in 1901. McNeel said the depot had three standards rooms – waiting room, office and freight room.
Later, a freight building was added behind the depot. With the addition of that building, the depot’s freight room was divided to add another waiting room, possibly for black passengers at the time.
“We had enough freight business that in 1905, the railroad built a separate freight station which was located about where we are now,” McNeel said. “The other building that is here that is still in existence – the smaller building that now has restrooms and a store room in it – it was originally a warehouse. It was actually located not where it is now, but on the other side of the track down closer to the road. In 1913, they moved the building to where it is now and turned it into an office building.”
The last passenger train ran in 1958, and in 1978, the C&O line was abandoned all together. In 1980, the right-of-way was transferred to the state of West Virginia.
The depot was first transferred to the Town of Marlinton, but later went to the Marlinton Railroad Depot Inc.
The depot underwent renovations and in 1983 was opened to the public.
“The building was open to the public at that point,” McNeel said. “It was an info center and a craft shop. Chessie Crafts was located in there and there were also some railroad artifacts.”
Due to a clause in the depot deed which states it could not be used for commercial use, the craft store closed and the depot soon became the home of the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau which was in the depot when it burned in 2008.
Over the years, the depot changed colors many times. It began its life as a drab green and moved on to white, cream and gray before it was painted its iconic yellow.
The depot has a rich history and has seen many men, women and children come and go.
For Norris Long, the depot was a place close to his family – his grandfather and six great uncles worked for the C&O Railroad, as did his father, P. F. “Bus” Long.
“In 1906, my grandfather, Benjamin Franklin “B. F.” Long started his work here on the C&O railroad as a section foreman,” Long said. “He, along with six other brothers, worked for the C&O railroad in various parts of West Virginia and Virginia – something that the family was always proud of, as was the C&O. Granddad lived in a big section house right up above First Avenue in between the railroad tracks and Greenbrier Hill.”
Long said he had many memories of the railroad from his childhood, but his biggest involved a refreshing treat on hot days.
“My biggest memory is the big chunks of ice shoved off the train,” he said. “There would be little ice chips out there and my younger brother and I would go out and pick up the ice chips in the summertime and suck on them.”
Long’s father, “Bus” followed in his father’s footsteps and began his career on the section crew in Marlinton. Bus moved on to other stations outside of Pocahontas County, but returned during World War II to be depot agent at Durbin along with Earl Whanger, who was the agent for Western Maryland Railroad.
After the war, Bus was transferred to Cass where he served until 1966, when the depot closed.
Bus returned to the Marlinton depot and Long remembers visiting his dad and helping prepare the house in Marlinton for the family’s move from Cass.
“I would go paint on my own and then when it was time for a coffee break, I would always come up to the depot and get with Dad,” Long said. “Dad loved his coffee – hot as could be and then he would put ice in it. I never could figure that out, but he loved his coffee.”
Bus continued to work at Marlinton until his untimely death in 1973.
The Long family’s history with the railroad lived on through memories and artifacts which came from the various depots the men worked at over the years.
Long and his brother, Jerry, who was also in attendance Friday, donated several artifacts to be displayed in the depot. Included were photos of the Long boys, a switch lantern, rubber stamp stand, lanterns, telegraph key and mail catcher.
“At some point in time whenever Dad was at Cass, he purchased his own [telegraph key] like this and it’s called a Cricket,” Long said. “The main difference between this and typical telegraph keys is that whenever you flipped it on, you hit it on one side, you’d get a click; push the other side and it’d go ‘dddddd,’ so it was a dash. I would be mesmerized whenever I would watch him send messages up and down the line.”
The two lanterns had an extra piece called torpedoes which were attached to them. Long explained that the torpedoes were used by track men to alert the train crew of issues on the track.
“These little boogers are explosives,” Long said. “They have lead arms that you wrapped over the track and whenever the train ran over them, they would explode, thereby warning either the engineer that there were problems or warning the track people ‘get the heck off or we’re going to run over you.’”
Many other artifacts are in the C&O Museum in Clifton Forge, Virginia, and Long said he plans to ask if they can be returned to Marlinton now that the depot is restored.
As he reflected on the past and envisioned the future for the depot, Long said he is happy to see the building back in operation and restored to its original glory.
“I’m positive that [Dad] would be proud to know what has been done here,” he said. “I think we are very proud of it. I cannot go beyond what I’ve said here today about how well the depot looks right now. Dad would be super proud of what it looks like and what it’s become.”
When the MRDI chose to restore the burned out building, it sought funds and tried to salvage as much of the original building as possible. The north end of the building survived the fire and was used in the restoration as the south end wall.
“The building was built by Allegheny Restorations and they did a wonderful job,” Joe Smith said. “If you look at this building, it looks identical to the original on the outside.”
Smith recognized the organizations and individuals that gave large donations to the project and said there are countless others who contributed.
Included in the list were: Fourth grade students at Marlinton Elementary School, the State of West Virginia, Rt. 39 Byways Commission, Pocahontas County Commission, Pocahontas County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the Town of Marlinton, the West Virginia Rail Authority, Marlinton Woman’s Club, the Greenbrier River Trail Association, Green Bank Observatory and Snowshoe Foundation.
“Through the help and generosity of Bill and Denise McNeel, we got it finished,” Smith added. “Andrew Must and his crew did the interior work and it is superb. It’s not like it was originally, but it is superb. What you see sitting there right now is about an eight hundred thousand dollar building.”
Smith said that now the building is being used and there is an income, the MRDI has plans to refurbish the caboose, box car and flat bed which are parked next to do the depot.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at email@example.com