Railroads helped build many a small town in America. They also left many of them to languish by the side of the tracks when passenger service came to an end. A great number of depots have disappeared across our country leaving only memories. O. Winston Link, an American Photographer, saw that this was going to happen to Steam Engines in the 1950s and spent over five years of his life capturing the last days of steam travel through photos and sound recordings covering Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina. Rural Retreat, Virginia was one of the stops along the Norfolk & Western line that he photographed and made famous on Christmas Eve 1957 with "The Birmingham Special Gets the High Ball at Rural Retreat" and "The Pelican Arrives at Rural Retreat". However, fame in the art world did not keep the Rural Retreat Depot from falling into disrepair in later years.
Nostalgia for all things railroad is something the Bluemoonistic Team treasures, thus seeing an organization use historical preservation to build a strong future for their community is something truly to be admired. History of place is important, but technology will lead us into the future. Instead of following historical trends, they polled their donors to find out what they thought the community most needed from the old depot. They set about fulfilling those needs by creating a Farmers Market, a high-tech Events Center, and a Museum. In addition, they made sure that the depot had fiber-optics so they can stream cultural events from around the world right into their community. They also have plans to create a studio for local musicians to record and send their talent out into the world. All three of these things are going to be such an asset to their community as they move forward.
Photo by Dale R. Carlson
and Dale R. Carlson
The Grand Opening Celebration on October 14, 2017, was organized in impressive hometown style. A local radio announcer, Craig Allison, from WYVE Radio in Wytheville, VA was the Master of Ceremonies and led the festivities with a professional touch that took us through the singing of the National Anthem, a ribbon cutting, speeches from the founders of the organization, their guest speaker Conway Link (O. Winston Link's son) and patriotic songs! The ceremony ended with the re-enactment of the train whistle sounds and Christmas eve bells from a local church similar to that recorded by O. Winston Link in 1957 - which left the crowd cheering.
Mayor Tim Litz
Of course, the ceremony was interrupted several times by passing freight trains, but as I heard someone in the crowd say "That's the story of our lives here - waiting for the train to go through." I think of that as a "Spirit Train" adding its part to the celebration. Over all it was a Class Act in true Americana style!
Dale took photos of the group assembled after the ceremony. I was privileged to be in that photo and will always treasure it as well as our part in promoting the restored depot with a Bluemoonistic Image. For train buffs like ourselves there is no higher honor. You can also donate to their cause at www.ruralretreatdepot.com or mail them a check to: The Rural Retreat Depot Foundation, PO Box 843, Rural Retreat, VA 24368Congratulations to all the individuals who gave so much of themselves to this project. You are a model for communities who want to preserve the past in a way that leads us into the future!