Saturday, December 3, 2022

Historic Lee Hall Depot Is Finally Open Again

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NEWPORT NEWS—It has been more than 40 years since the Lee Hall Depot has greeted railway passengers, but the historic train station is finally operational again and now accepting visitors as a museum.

Passenger service ended in the late 1970s and the depot was used as a maintenance facility until 1993. At that time, instead of tearing the old building down, CSX offered to donate it to the city of Newport News, if they agreed to move it away from its previous location.

The move was a delicate operation and the renovation process has been costly, but the results are amazing. The station finally opened again to the general public again in early June, taking visitors on a ride into the past.

“The Depot is at the north end of Newport News as you enter on Warwick, so it is a great introduction to that rural history that Lee Hall Village has,” said Anne Miller, superintendent of historic services for Newport News Park, Recreation, and Tourism. “It’s a part of the historic area that includes Lee Hall Mansion and Endview Plantation. The story is really about the transformation the railway brought to a rural county.”

The station was originally built in the 1880s as a way to link the Ohio River Valley with the sea. It is the only remaining depot of the five stations that operated in this area—Lee Hall, Oriana, Oyster Point, Morrison, and Newport News. After the station was gifted to the city, the Lee Hall Train Station Foundation was organized in 2000 to raise funding for the move and restoration in conjunction with the City of Newport News.

In 2008, the city tapped Phoenix Corporation to construct a new foundation. They also engaged with Expert House Movers, a firm experienced in difficult historic building relocations. The building was sliced in two and the first part of the building was repositioned on June 24, 2009. The second section was moved into place the next day. On September 24, 2010, the Lee Hall Depot was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In June 2021, the doors were reopened to the public.

“The exhibits are a restored ticket and waiting area, which now includes a children’s interactive section, the station master’s office and operator’s bay, the railway express agent’s office and the freight room as well as the upstairs apartment where the station master would have lived,” said Miller. “This depot is unique because most stations did not have apartments. Most station masters lived in the nearby towns, but in this case, the station master lived right in the building with his family.”

According to Miller, there is one phase left in the renovation, which will include the Warwick County Gallery.

“The gallery will look at the five stops the train made in this area and will concentrate on the people who rode the train, worked on the train, and worked in the station,” she said. “We’re still in the process of raising the funding we’ll need for this final phase, but we’re also collecting content. Lots of people travelled through Lee Hall Depot or had family members who did, and we would love to hear their stories, especially if they have photos as well.”

Anyone who has a story to tell or photos to share is encouraged to reach out to nnhistoricsites@nnva.gov.

Funding for the final phase will come from donations, memberships, tours, and special events. The Depot is open for guided tours on Saturdays from 10am to 4pm.

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