All aboard for a trip down memory lane

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 23, 2002

Today, the Seaboard Station houses a museum with photographs of old locomotives, trains and of course, a wealth of railroad memorabilia from the old railway.

A caboose stands as a sentinel from the past, watching over the station where an old trainmaster’s desk stands inside a vacant office that must have hummed with activity long ago. The desk is the place where the trainmaster may have kept track of commodities and people shipping in and out on the Seaboard line. The desk is a little more than waist high, and it’s angled downward from the top to make it easier for the trainman to work on his papers and charts.

While the railroad is most interesting to most people, the Historical Society’s gift shop also begs the question of why we ever set foot in a mall or super center in search of that perfect Christmas gift. The Seaboard Station’s Gift Shop has some of the most wonderfully unique items to be found this side of Williamsburg. Unusual collectibles abound in the shop. Candlelights with sculptured metal leaves surrounding the globes rival the beauty of the magnolia flower night lights, and several Christmas trees in the shop feature ornaments that would graciously adorn any fir tree.

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There are also books, including one by one of Suffolk’s historians, the late Marian Watson who single-handedly amassed a collection of photos from ages gone by. Those pictures were collected and cataloged by Watson who was also a charter member of the Historical Society.

Her daughter, Frances Watson Clark, has published those photos in a book, &uot;Suffolk and Nansemond County.&uot; Watson’s tome and books by Brian Steel Wills, another Suffolk historian, are available in the train station gift shop.

The Seaboard Station is the unofficial headquarters for the Historical Society, especially now that the Department of Tourism moved to another historic building, the restored Prentiss House, just across the street from the station. Appropriately, the society has its gift shop inside since the members were instrumental in saving the building.

As Historical Society member Betsy Brothers explained, the station burned in 1994 and it was left much like a skeleton awaiting its sorry fate. It languished until the group determined that it would not be lost to the ravages of time. Together with the city’s matching $30,000, the society managed to wrangle $5.5 million together to save the station where many of the members’ grandparents probably boarded trains at one time or another.

&uot;The bulk of the funding came from federal transportation money,&uot; Brothers said. &uot;We got two grants for the station, with the city providing 10 percent to match the Society’s 10 percent. Then, the transportation grant provided their funding. We also got donations from individuals, local area foundations and in-kind services. We had husbands and other artisans who donated materials and labor and then we applied for another grant and we were fortunate enough to get that. This was all over a three-year process and now that we’re up and running, including the scale model trains, we would like for everyone to come out to enjoy it and pick up a few souvenirs and gifts from our shop. It’s a trip you won’t forget.&uot;

The Historical Society is dedicated to preserving the past and, since its inception in 1966, it has not only gathered information, photos and artifacts from the past, but has also devoted time, money and work toward preserving the integrity of Suffolk’s historic sites.

Some of those old homes, churches, and businesses are preserved in another way that allows anyone interested in Suffolk’s history to collect and preserve photographs of the sites.

The members of the Historical Society have put together one of the most unique 2003 calendars to be found.

Each month’s page shows one of the city’s old buildings or scenes from days of long ago.

Along with some of the most entrancing photography of the city’s historic past, there is a wealth of information about events and people from the past. The calendar could be invaluable to any scholar or someone interested in learning more about the history of our area.

Barbara N. McPhail, another Historical Society member, recently said that preservation of the city’s historic resources is fast becoming one of the main goals of the group

According to a booklet published by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, promoting a community’s historic resources builds citizenship values, and this helps tell a story because they are associated with people, places, events, or the aspects of the area’s past. These places of history are noted to be the most tangible reflections of a community heritage and serve to document the human experience.

&uot;We hope this calendar will inspire that same community pride,&uot; said McPhail. &uot;As we look back on the way things were, perhaps we will continue to be inspired to preserve and protect our history for generations to come.&uot;

Tom Arthur is a member of this Historical Society who devotes his time to the train station, serving as a host and engineer for the scale model railroad. He said he is well rewarded for his &uot;tour of duty&uot; each day.

&uot;I don’t go through a tour that I don’t meet an interesting person,&uot; said Arthur. &uot;I very much enjoy doing this and I would like to invite people to visit the station and see some of Suffolk’s past. We can look back to a time to see the way things were since this scale model of the town has been greatly researched and is as accurate as the records on the old town.&uot;

For more information on the Seaboard Train Station, the Historical Society’s 2003 calendar, or joining the Society’s efforts to preserve historic Suffolk, visit the Station at 326 N. Main St.