Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

May 11, 2013

Richlands effort to preserve section house

RICHLANDS, Va. — Progress is being made on the restoration of a unique piece of railroad history in Tazewell County.

The railroad foreman’s section house in Richlands dates back to 1890 — two years before the town itself was incorporated — and was a vital stop for trains carrying coal for distribution. Though an important piece of the town’s history, the section house has since fallen into disrepair.

Ginger Branton, executive director of the Richlands Area Chamber of Commerce, said the project has been a long time coming.

The greatest thing is this is the last design for our revitalization project,” Branton said. “We kicked off the project in 1995. We are very, very excited about this and so glad that everything we wanted has worked out. The section house will be a showcase for the town and tie in to the local coal heritage trail. This is the last project as part of that revitalization project, so we are glad to see it getting off the ground.”

Richlands Town Manager Tim Taylor said the Section House Citizen’s Advisory Committee, appointed to oversee the section house project by the town council, is moving forward with finding an architect for the project.

“Basically, we are in the process of hiring design professionals and an architect,” Taylor said. “The committee the town council assigned has developed a proposal for the project and we are finalizing that proposal. We will be bidding out for architects in the next two weeks. Once we select the winning bidder, we will start with the design for the project and we will really get off the ground.”

Taylor said a grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation and a land donation from Norfolk Southern has helped the town move forward with restoration of the structure.

“The total cost of the project is estimated at $662,276 and we received $483,000 in federal transportation funds through VDOT,” Taylor said. “The grant is part of their transportation enhancement fund. This is a matching grant fund and as part of the match the town has provided the house and the land, which was donated to us from Norfolk Southern. The town is also handling all utilities, water and traffic enhancement on the roadway. Including the land and building itself, the town’s part comes to about $120,759, though more funding may be needed as we move along.”

As the project is being financed through a VDOT grant, Taylor said there are specific things required of the restoration.

“These are intense projects,” Taylor said. “They are specific with their do’s and don’ts. We have to preserve the integrity of the structure and preserve it’s historical connection to transportation. The section house was where the foreman lived during the height of the rail and coal industry here. It is located in downtown, which is rare for a section house since most were out of town. This is where the steam engines got their coal and wood.”

Many section houses were torn down when major railroads moved from the area, leaving an estimated 300 section houses left in the United States. Taylor said this makes the section house a unique piece of history.

“It’s a functional building, though it was built to be pretty rough and meager,” Taylor said. “There aren’t many of these left. Even the railroad felt it was important that we preserve this. Most people you talk to in town feel this is important to keep. These types of projects are largely community driven.”

 If any club, group or organization is interested in hosting a presentation about the section house restoration project or anyone wanting to get involved in the restoration effort can call 276-963-0127 for more information.

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com

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