Railroads may seem like an out-of-date mode of transportation, but they are still a prominent form of travel and trade. And they’re especially important to the identity of some of Virginia’s most historic towns, some of which developed according to railway stops. Today, these towns not only make for a fascinating lesson in Virginia’s railway systems, but also an unbelievably charming visit. Here are some stops you’ll want to make:
The seat of Prince William County, Manassas is perhaps most widely known for its role in the Civil War. When the area served as the site of both battles, it was on the map as little more than a railroad crossing. Out of this has developed a town, officially incorporated since 1873. Visitors will enjoy meandering through the historic Old Town, museums, art studios and impressive restaurant scene.
Part of Orange County, Gordonsville can be found less than 20 miles from Charlottesville. The area is named for Nathaniel Gordon, the first postmaster of the town in the early 1800s. This historic land was once owned by a relative of James Madison and quickly became significant for its proximity to Fredericksburg and Richmond. It’s no wonder why railroad transportation was also a prominent aspect of Gordonsville’s development. Today, the town still has its southern charm and boasts great dining options and fascinating historic sites.
As the home of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville is by no means a tiny town. It does, however, have a tight-knit community and charming downtown area just miles away from its train tracks. Charlottesville was formed in 1762, strategically located along what was then known as Three Notched Road. The train tracks are a scenic portion of the city, one of the many attractions featured in a relatively small area.
Just like Charlottesville, Roanoke is hardly a small town by the standard definition. but no railroad list is complete without it. Today, there is no passenger railroad service that goes through the city, but it is predicted that by 2017 there will be an Amtrak service from Lynchburg. With its beautiful Shenandoah landscapes, Roanoke is located in one of the most breathtaking areas of the state and is a frequent stop among those traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway. There’s plenty of downtown activity, and much to explore.
Photographed above is the Virginia Transportation Museum
Located along the Appomattox River, Petersburg has been a strategic location for trade and transportation since the 1700s. Today, the CSX and NS railway systems run through Petersburg with both short rides to Petersburg and long distance rides to the South. In addition to its extensive railroad and Civil War history, Petersburg features impressive attractions which make it the perfect destination for a day or weekend trip.
Doswell was once known as Hanover Junction, as it served as an important stop along the Virginia Central Railroad (currently known as the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad). The area was later renamed in the early 1890s to honor Major Thomas Doswell. With a population of just under 2,000, it’s a small town with plenty of charm. One of the biggest attractions in Doswell is the Kings Dominion theme park and the State Fair, both of which have a history of attracting families from all over the state.
Tucked away in Nottoway County, Burkeville was formerly known as Burke’s Junction, located at the intersection of the Richmond and Danville Railroad and the Southside Railroad. Those interested in learning more about the area’s important railway history can stop by the Crewe Railroad Museum. Another attraction of Burkeville is the scenic Twin Lakes State Park.
Less than 50 miles from Washington D.C., Fredericksburg is a major stopping point in the northern Virginia area. The town served an important role during both colonial times and the Civil War, largely due to its location along the Rappahannock River. Fredericksburg receives plenty of visitors each year, mostly folks interested in the history of the town as well as the charming downtown. The restored 18th and 19th century buildings host authentic antiques, shopping, and more.
9. Clifton Forge
The beautiful town of Clifton Forge is located in Allegheny County with a population of approximately 4,000. Today, it’s the Cardinal Route of Amtrak that runs through this peaceful area. At once time, Clifton was also the location of Jackson’s River Station, named for the nearby river. Another noteworthy feature of this town that makes for a great visit is Douthat State Park, one of the six original state parks in Virginia.
The county seat of Shenandoah County, Woodstock is a quaint town with an impressive history. The area of land once belonged to Lord Fairfax and was established in the spring of 1761. The architecture of early buildings is especially notable, and the courthouse was designed by Thomas Jefferson himself. Visitors can enjoy the town’s taverns, antique shops, and charming cafes as they spend the day meandering the streets of this lovely area.
Just 15 miles from the state’s capital, Ashland developed as part of the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroads. As the train lines developed, so did the town. In the early 1900s, Ashland also served as an early streetcar hub of Richmond. Today’s visitors to Ashland will learn about its railroad history starting with the welcome center, which is located right alongside the railroad tracks.
Located in Halifax County, Clarksville is known for being “Virginia’s Only Lakeside Town.” Its proximity to the 50,000 acre Kerr Lake defines it as a great destination for fishermen and other water enthusiasts. Clarksville is also nearby to the Roanoke River and was incorporated in 1818. Within 20 years, the town was one of the fastest growing in the state, with help from the Roanoke Valley Railroad. A visit to Clarksville today means enjoying the beautiful scenery, lakeside dining, and Occoneechee State Park.
Because Virginia has such an extensive railroad history, there are quite a few towns that missed the list. But these should provide a glimpse into the fascinating development of some of the state’s most beloved towns. Which are some of your favorite railroad stops in Virginia? We’d love to hear from you! If you love Virginia’s railways, be sure to check out this
Fall Foliage Train Ride Through Virginia.