The June 1 car show in the Town of Boones Mill brought good fortune to town in a few different ways.
Saturday’s clear skies and 80-degree temperatures drove participation up to 60 cars and spectators to at least 500. Derrick Amos took home the “Best in Show” trophy for his 1970 Chevy Z28. And the Boones Mill Train Depot restoration project now has an additional $1,700 from the show’s proceeds.
Listed on the National Register of Historic places, the depot was built in 1892 by what was then Norfolk & Western Railway. Passenger service began in 1908. In 1964, the depot was taken out of service. In 2014, the Town of Boones Mill bought the depot for $1 and moved it a quarter mile across the railroad tracks to its current home near the town hall offices and Boones Mill Market Place.
Bit by bit, Boones Mill councilman Mike Smith said the group of residents organizing the restoration has secured donations, grants and volunteer labor to restore the depot to its original state. Smith estimates they’ve raised approximately $6,000 in private donations so far, with several grants still pending.
Renovations already performed include roof repair, painting, installing the original lights, and electrical service restoration and reconnection.
Aside from the historic draw of the depot itself, the building showcases three different model train sets. In September, Smith Mountain Lake resident and former engineer Jim Mathie donated a model train set of 12 tables with an elaborate diorama that includes mountains, a river and detailed small-town scenes. Volunteers spent three days dismantling and transporting the mammoth set.
“It’s something you can sit down and look at for hours,” Smith said. “It’s amazing.” Volunteers are still working on wiring the set back together. Its engines are controlled by a digital command center that coordinates their sounds and motion. Smith said it took Mathie eight years to construct the 15- by 28-foot set.
In addition, the passenger waiting room and the station office contain smaller train sets that will be moved to the large freight room to join Mathie’s set. The diorama currently in the passenger waiting area is a near-exact replica of the Town of Boones Mill circa 1964. Each home and business is labeled.
The next step, Smith said, is to work on a platform around the depot so that the town can officially open the structure to the public. He’s working with hardware stores to secure grants for materials, and will gather crews of volunteers for construction.
“As we have time, we can work Saturdays and get a lot done,” Smith said. He said many volunteers have already offered to help. The Town of Boones Mill owns the depot, but is not funding its renovations, Smith said.
“We’ve kind of kept it all donations instead of using town money because our money is kind of tight right now,” he continued. “We raised every bit needed to move it.” The move ran $58,000, which was donated by the late Digby Greene, a longtime Boones Mill resident who served as an N&W station master for just shy of 50 years. He retired as Boones Mill’s station master in 1957.
Many area residents have also donated period items and some of the original depot’s furniture and tools. The waiting area has the original station master’s desk, safe and scales. The depot office contains antique cast-iron cookware and utensils. Historic photos line the walls.
Jerry Greene, grandson of Digby, said he has fond childhood memories of summer days at the station, quickly opting to go to work with his grandfather rather than shopping for dresses with his mother and sisters in town. With a chuckle, he recalled being about 8 years old and weighing himself on the scales several times a day, “just to see if my weight would change.”
Greene and Smith remember the tons of pulp wood, produce, milk, and furniture weighed and shipped out via train during their childhoods. Between the passengers and the goods, the county’s longtime residents remember the depot as a flurry of activity.
Smith said he’s thankful for a recent Franklin County Board of Supervisors donation of $2,500.
“We appreciate that because this is not going to be a Boones Mill project. It will be a Franklin County project.”
Smith added that he hopes groups such as the Norfolk & Western Historical Society, which visited the depot in early May, and area model railroad groups will keep visiting and generating interest in the restoration. Perhaps at some point, he said, there could be a train trail that connects small-town depots such as Boones Mill to museums such as the Virginia Museum of Transportation in downtown Roanoke.