Sunday, November 25, 2001

Before the car and the airplane long before the sport utility vehicle and the Concorde there was the train.

It was an important part of American life, bringing development, commerce and immigrants to the areas into which it puffed and chugged. Trains brought excitement, fueling the settlements and towns that sprung up in the areas surrounding the stations.

Fairfax County got its share in 1850, when the Orange and Alexandria Railroad constructed three stations in the area in Fairfax, Burke and Clifton. One hundred and fifty years later, a group called Friends of the Fairfax Station Inc. is working to ensure that the significance of the Fairfax depot remains alive.

It’s not an easy task.

“People may live right in our back yard and not even be aware that we are here,” says Friends president Joan Rogers, “but people should be aware of the past. The history of railroading and our part during the Civil War is very important, as well as the local history of Fairfax Station to the Northern Virginia area.”

The Friends all volunteers maintain and operate the Fairfax Station Railroad Museum in Fairfax Station. It’s housed in a small building one of the old depots, actually, which was relocated to its current spot.

The museum welcomes visitors from 1 to 4 p.m. every Sunday. Inside, people will find a mixture of train memorabilia and objects from the past, mainly Civil War relics, that tell the story of the station’s significance to the community and to the war effort.

“Our mission is to try to tell the story of the area not only of the railroad from the beginning up until when the railroad was closed in 1973,” Ms. Rogers says. Yes, elements of that story include a collection of antique model trains, but there is much more.

Dozens of large framed photographs depict the history of the area. A roll from Fairfax Station contains the names of all the men of a Pennsylvania regiment stationed at the depot during the Civil War. The document lists their monthly wages and various debts to the government for their uniforms and other sundries.

Other documents include a telegram from the same period originating from Fairfax Station and a pass from Fairfax Station to the town of Fairfax, enabling a soldier to travel freely.

“During the Civil War, it was very important to have control over the railroad because that’s how all the supplies were distributed, as well as taking soldiers in and out of the area into Alexandria and Washington,” Ms. Rogers says.

Just as now, she says, “people didn’t want things like that in their back yard, so the station was out in the country, several miles from the town, so people had to come to the depot to pick up their supplies.”

A ledger book dated 1889 contains records of ticket sales and destinations. A shard from an artillery shell survived the Battle of Spotsylvania in 1864.

Medic Clara Barton is well-represented by relics such as pins, badges and stamps. The American Red Cross founder tended to thousands of wounded men in a single weekend as they lay near the station, awaiting transportation to Alexandria.

Children won’t want to miss the chance to step inside the caboose parked outside the museum. It is a 1960s Norfolk & Western donated to the museum by the Norfolk Southern Foundation in 1994.

“Cabooses are no longer being used, and they were a fascinating part of history,” Ms. Rogers says. “Everyone just seems to gravitate toward it. Children are able to go into the caboose and actually, with the assistance of parents, climb into the cupola and look out.”

All of these relics and artifacts are part of the permanent exhibit, available every Sunday for the public’s inspection. On every third Sunday of every month except December and January, there’s more. That’s when the local model train club, the Northern Virginia NTrak, sets up a running-train exhibit in the museum.

“The children just love this,” Ms. Rogers says. “We have a big garden-gauge train that encircles the museum, and the children can run around the museum. Then we have all the others inside.”

On Dec. 1 and 2, the museum will host its 12th annual train show (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday), welcoming clubs from around the region. Have an ailing model train? Bring it to the show, where the “Loco Doc” will take a look for free and try to get it running again.

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide