Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


March 15, 2014

Get on board for support, restoration of historic Tazewell train station

The Tazewell Town Council and the County Historical Society have begun work on a proposal to plan for the future of the old Norfolk & Western Railway station at North Tazewell. Some 20 interested citizens gathered this past Tuesday at the society headquarters at the end of Main Street to discuss ideas.

It is an open secret that I have a one-track mind and so when Dr. Terry Mullins, a long-time Tazewell High teacher and now an instructor at Concord University, asked me to join that very distinguished committee, I jumped at the chance like a hobo reaching for a handle on an old freight car.

That first meeting was held and the train, unfortunately, pulled out of the station without me. Just down the street there was a Model General Assembly meeting for the three county high schools at the courthouse, just close enough for me to hear the whistle but too far to step on the high iron. Nevertheless, first things first and the students had a great time. Now, on to the business at hand.

Dr. Mullins, one of the area’s preeminent historians, a widely-published author and an old country boy who loves this area, sends along information that the first station was originally built in 1889, making it about 90 years after the official formation of Tazewell County. (Note: Tazewell High School was founded 16 years earlier and future Gov. George C. Peery would have been a lad of 16 years, as well. Interesting that THS, the oldest high school in the county, would be the same age as the man who would first be its principal and later chief executive officer of the Commonwealth.)

That station on the Clinch Valley Line was rebuilt in 1928 in its current form adjacent to the tracks. Many older residents will recall the old water tank for the steam locomotives about 200 yards west behind the Blue Grass Oils property, just across from where Clinch Valley Community Action is located in the site of the former Acme Market building across the street from the old Jackson-Fleet Drug Store. Is that enough history for today in one paragraph?

Dr. Mullins also reveals that the Tazewell station is one of just two stations left between Bluefield and Norton. For about 40 years, this fine old building has not been used for railroad purposes. There were several years, I believe, when the station was owned or operated by an agricultural business so it has been occupied for commercial purposes in the not-too-distant past.

Again — and this is coming from memory — the last station agent was Major Hatfield. Rusty Hatfield, long-time Tazewell teacher, band and also choral director, is Major’s son and recalls that his father came to Tazewell in 1959 and retired around 1977. That means there was some steam traffic going through the Clinch Valley Line for a few months during Mr. Hatfield’s Tazewell tenure on the N&W.

Dr. Mullins is a council member, as well, so he is certainly qualified to tackle this project. He notes that the overall study group will operate in smaller units called Researching and Writing the Depot’s History, Exploring Grant Opportunities, Building Public Support for the Project and Repurposing the Train Station. As usual, this has been planned for maximum effectiveness.

If you have information about the station or would like to help in some way with this project, stay tuned. It seems like a very good opportunity to revitalize a significant area landmark and one that served the coal and cattle community very well for many years.

In a related situation, the famed J-Class No. 611 4-8-4 steam locomotive which powered the Norfolk-to-Cincinnati passenger trains including the Powhatan Arrow and Pocahontas, among others, will soon be on the road to restoration. Money has been donated to begin that process and now plans are underway to build a maintenance facility. As soon as the generosity of the public has come through with the necessary dollars, then the “J” will be removed from the Roanoke Transportation Museum and sent to the shops in Spencer, N.C., I believe, for the transformation to begin.

The “J” has not been under live steam since December 1994. It was in June of  ’94, however, that a very special excursion from Bluefield through Tip Top, Witten’s Mill, Tazewell, Cedar Bluff, Iaeger, Welch and back to Bluefield passed by the historic Tazewell station. No doubt many of our readers recall that trip and probably several were on the train. I recall being on there with Sam Crockett and  his wife, and also Ron and Ellen Davidson, among others. It was a fabulous trip, including a breathtaking ride over the massive trestle near Amonate.

Wouldn’t it be great if the old train station and the great locomotive could be brought back to life at the same time and perhaps on the next excursion the 611 could make a stop in Tazewell.

All aboard!

Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.

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