The train depot on the Montpelier Estate in Orange County has just been restored. The Montpelier Foundation hopes it will teach the public about the Jim Crow period of segregation, and turn a dark chapter in American history into a positive lesson about change.
It's a chance to step back in time, when travel by train was king and when those who rode them were segregated. Montpelier President Michael C. Quinn says, "It's a much different sense of space in the colored waiting room from the white waiting room."
The Montpelier Foundation spent the past 18 months authentically restoring the building to what it looked like when it was built 1910 by William DuPont. There's an old telegraph and typewriter, and the benches are original to the building.
As required by racial segregation laws in Virginia at the time, the depot had to include two waiting rooms, a large one for whites and a smaller one for African Americans. So the historians re-hung the waiting room signs.
Tom Chapman is the research coordinator for the Montpelier Foundation. Chapman says, "We really did that to bring in to focus the realization that this aspect of this history existed."
The exhibit is a stark reminder of the Jim Crow era and the racism that African American travelers confronted. But the Montpelier Foundation hopes the message is about how America has changed. Quinn says, "It's a very key part in our overall effort to interpret race relations, social justice and even the evolution of the constitution here at Montpelier."
Chapman says, "We at Montpelier don't necessarily look at it as separate history to say it's African American history or it's American history but it's all kind of incorporated into one history with many different experiences."
Train service to the depot stopped about 1974, but the US Post Office has been there since 1912. If you'd like to visit the museum, the exhibit is free.