Down VA-20 near the entrance to James Madison’s Montpelier is the now-decommissioned train depot that was built by William duPont, Sr. (owner of Montpelier from 1901 to 1928), to enable his travel to Delaware for work and to provide passenger and freight service to Montpelier. Like Montpelier, the depot has been restored to an earlier time—its 1910 original appearance.
Restoration to this period means the depot has segregated waiting rooms. To acknowledge and provide education on this time in U.S. history, the depot houses a permanent exhibit on segregation, including signs and posters explaining Jim Crow laws and providing information on how the laws affected the local African-American community. Under the ticket window on both the “white” and “colored” sides are three buttons for playing sound clips, which include excerpts from the 14th Amendment and speeches made when the restored depot was reopened in 2010.
The area for the employees of the depot contains a desk for telegraph equipment and operation and a freight room. The current Montpelier Station U.S. Post Office (zip code 22960) operates out of the freight room.
The wood paneling inside the station has definitely seen many decades, displaying nicks, holes, and other signs of wear, but the restoration has brought out the luster in the aged wood. And because the station is still in use as a post office, it does not have a dusty museum smell. I could easily imagine someone popping in any minute to buy a ticket. My imagination was helped along by a train passing while my friend Loretta and I were in the station.
One thing I wonder about is the color of the building exterior. It is the same yellow-gold color as the main entrance doors to Montpelier. While the Montpelier doors are supposed to be historically accurate for the time James Madison retired, I couldn’t find any information on whether the original depot was painted this color. Was the color chosen to indicate the buildings' connection to each other?
I am impressed with the Montpelier Foundation’s incorporation of information about African-Americans, pre- and post-emancipation, into its presentations and exhibits. In addition to the exhibit here, the main tour, map, and supplemental materials at Montpelier include information on the likely living quarters and daily lives of the slaves who lived and worked on the estate during Madison’s time. And across the street, Gilmore Cabin, a restored freedman’s home, sheds light on the lives of emancipated slaves. I find this much better than the previous handling at historic museums (which mostly consisted of a mumbled—or worse, challenging—variation of “Yes, [the residents of this house] owned slaves, but most people of their standing did during that time”). It seems to me that this level of integration of both white and black American stories at historic houses museums is fairly recent—within the last five to ten years.
And last, from the department of anachronism: I was bemused and a bit disturbed by the No Guns sign outside the depot. I know it's not period, but I wouldn't have thought gun-toting would be a common enough problem at museums to need to explicitly forbid.
The Montpelier Station train depot is worth a visit if you're in the area.