September/October 2014 Article

This Month's Article:  September/October 2014
Tales of Rockfish, Virginia
Like many places in Virginia and other states during the mid to late 1800’s, Rockfish as a community developed around the railroad putting down rails and the need to support both freight and passenger activity plus the activities to maintain the locomotives with water stops and coal.  Rockfish Depot, in the early 1900’s was a thriving village with stores (like Smith’s Cash Store) and would also have a small Post Office (where the Depot might be the center of all that happened in town and people would wait for those daily trains to arrive to see who might slip off a Pullman car or coach and spend money nearby.  There would be a gas station by 1915 or so, demonstrating that automobiles would become an active part of everyone’s life soon.   But Rockfish was, like many towns in Virginia, either associated to farming or some form of industry/business. 
For this tale, it is the industry of the very late 1800’s that had soapstone veins being exploited to create an industry that utilized the quarried stone for wash sinks, laboratory countertops, and even to construct the buildings used to saw or mill the stone for final products.  Virginia Soapstone created its relationship with the Southern Railway in Rockfish as the closest rail junction that could handle the volume of crated products emanating from Schuyler.  The interchange worked both ways with the Southern bringing in goods and materials to keep not only the mill running but also to supply the Company Store at Schuyler with items that workers would need to subsist in the industrial area that supplied them with employment.  The worker’s houses were scattered in nearby areas but the Company Store was their window to the outside world in most cases, bringing them products that could only be found there (such as wood stoves, cookware, and other sundry goods).  Connecting to the Southern Railway at Rockfish Depot first was the trolley equipment purchased secondhand from the Lynchburg Electric Street Railway Company. This equipment was well used, but quickly became modified for the distinct needs of moving crated soapstone sinks for shipment via boxcars more suited for long haul than the short distance traveled along the Rockfish River to deliver items to the warehouse along the rail line at the Depot.  The trolley setup included the high trestle at Schuyler that was removed later as the merger of the soapstone companies and the formation of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway superseded the need for the Schuyler Railways electric line. 
The amount of rail traffic through Rockfish Depot was significant enough to have the Southern Railway double-track the main line and there were passenger trains that met up with the scheduled mixed trains of the N&A Railway though there may have been some issues with the Southern changing their schedules and not notifying the N&A leaving passengers stranded at Rockfish either coming or going.  But it was the floods that impacted the Rockfish River that would damage and finally end the link between Schuyler and Rockfish for the Nelson & Albemarle Railway.  Flooding in 1947 finally washed out several bridges and much of the roadbed supporting the rail. 
The N&A requested formal abandonment the following year and the remainder of track would be torn out and the use of the interchange with the Southern Railway ended.  Like any town, the depression had caused many a business failure but the change in America due to World War II had lasting impact on Rockfish. 
While cars had been difficult to procure during the war, the post-war period saw a boom in automobile production and the rise in car ownership.  With cars as a prime mover of people and the railroad no longer the main way to get to other towns, Rockfish lost it's stature as a key railroad stop on the Southern Railway's main route to the South. 
The depot would eventually be torn down to reduce the taxable property on the railroad.  Business endeavors near the depot such as warehouses, merchandise stores, etc. would leave for better locations such as by the now well-traveled roadways.  Rockfish reverted back to the quaint community with a basis on farming.  As other communities experienced an outflow of it's youth in search of employment and a better life, so did Rockfish lose many of it's youngsters to the lure of business in Waynesboro or Lynchburg.  Left today are a single track mainline crossing the Rockfish River on bridge abutments designed for the double track of the Southern Railways highest moments.  The small Post Office is also a reminder of the active village Rockfish once was and receives quite a few visitors each year.
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