May-June 2018 Article

This Month's Article - May/June 2018
Tales of Rockfish - Part 2 (Rockfish Depot)

If you could slip back in time to a point where there were few, if any, automobiles and you were living in a small, country village off the beaten path alongside a rail line (the life blood of communities around the turn of the 19th century), that period in time could best describe the Rockfish Depot along the Southern Railway.  Those early days of the last century were difficult days for the people in Nelson and nearby Albemarle County.  A primary occupation was farming and the nearby quarries of the soapstone works at Schuyler.  The center of the community was the railroad and the businesses that sprang up around the depot. 
This section of railway began life as part of the Orange & Alexandria Railway (formed by charter in the late 1840's)  which would merge into the newly-created Southern Railway system in 1894 after a tumultuous previous twenty-four years of evolution.  Names changed from the Orange & Alexandria Railway to the Orange, Alexandria and Manassas Railroad before entering into bankruptcy and emerging as Virginia Midland but being controlled by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.  The Virginia Midland would become part of the Richmond & Danville (while retaining the Virginia Midland name) until the merger into the Southern RR).   While life in the country setting revolved around either work or the enjoyment of leisure time activity, working at the Soapstone Works could not have been considered an easy life.  Drilling and cutting stone blocks out of the quarries was a labor-intensive effort aided by some mechanical tools, but outdoors regardless of the weather.  Indoors (without any air conditioning as we know it today) was hot in the summertime and while there were large fans, working in the Gang Saw building (as my Father did in the early 1940 time period) or in the mill, drilling and assembling wash tubs, could not be considered comfortable.  Rockfish depot was the outside world - let in on occasion whenever the train arrived.  Mail, packages, friends, relatives all came to Rockfish Depot via the train.  As was mentioned in a previous article (written in September/October 2014), the first trains connecting the Soapstone Works to Rockfish Depot were trolleys purchased secondhand from the Lynchburg Street Railway System - their original first trolleys and in definite secondhand condition.
 
This connection would be updated quickly once the merger of Virginia Soapstone Works and Albemarle Soapstone Works completed and with the creation of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway to service the rail needs of the combined company. 
In Archie Robertson's 1945 book, Slow Train to Yesterday, he mentioned how the Southern Railway was served at Rockfish Depot by the Nelson & Albemarle Railway crew using 'poling' to push boxcars into place on an adjacent track.  *  Around the depot opportunity flourished.  Some of the nearby buildings included a mechanic (more than likely handling anything mechanical such as a tractor, farm implement, or automobile), a general store (unfortunately having burned down during the 1960's), the post office (still standing since moving from the depot in about 1914), and, in deference to work or leisure, a church.  This was a tight-knit little area of businesses supporting the people of the area and any travelers coming off of the North-South line of the Southern Railway as well as any going east (or arriving) by the
Nelson & Albemarle Railway mixed use train to Schuyler, Esmont, or Alberene.  Sadly, the depot itself is long gone with the last available photograph taken about 1957 though recently a photograph was found with no date of the Rockfish depot covered in snow.  The few photographs of the area (two used for postcards and shown here again as in the previous article of Rockfish) depict a medium size station with facilities to handle freight and passengers easily.  In an unusual twist, two brothers, including one who worked for the Southern Railway, purchased the materials of the Rockfish Depot to use as a 'family hunting cabin' around 1960.  They disassembled the station, reconstructing it as a the 'Rockfish Cabin' with stone added.  It's new location, on Braley Pond Road in West Augusta, Virginia, became a rental and most recently was know as 'The Rustic Moose'.  Sadly, the cabin the Lohr family completed around 1963, with it's rustic look and stone from nearby streams, is no longer available to rent.  Although no longer looking like the depot with it's waiting room facing the tracks, the reconstruction of the depot as a family cabin recycled what might have ended up in a landfill had nature taken it's course on a no longer used station. * Rockfish today, consists solely of the Post Office and nearby homes.  Gone is the small business community and the depot itself.  Visitors to the nearby Walton's Mountain Museum on Rockfish River Road sometimes stop at Rockfish to see what remains of the area, but finding your way to Rockfish by car is much more complicated.   

Send email to NelsonAlbemarle@comcast.net if you have any comments or questions or wish to contribute to future articles.  Copyright 2018 - Nelson & Albemarle Railway Historical Society.

We continue to look for diagrams of the railway track at Rockfish for our Nelson & Albemarle Railway map.  If you have something to share, please write to us at the email address above. Copyright 2018 - Nelson & Albemarle Railway Historical Society.
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