BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – The Bristol Train Station is a staple on State Street that dates back to the early 1900s.
“It’s a centerpiece of Downtown Bristol. There are other things, like the Bristol sign and State Street itself. There are a lot of historic landmarks here, but this is just awe-inspiring,” said Tim Buchanan, Historian for the Bristol Historical Association.
For those who live in Bristol Tennessee or Virginia, frequent trips past the train station are likely, but several may not be familiar with its history.
At present day, it serves as an event venue. However, in its heyday, the site was crucial for commuting. It was an arm of the Norfolk and Western Railway (N&W Railroad) and a significant one at that.
“This was just a huge train station. It was one of five or six major stations on the N&W, which ended right here in Bristol,” Buchanan said.
The site is the fourth station to stand near the state line. The first was destroyed in the Civil War while the second and third variations were proven insufficient in size and needed to be changed. Buchanan said the fourth version was just right.
“It was built in 1902, and it was during the George L. Carter era, he was in Bristol at the time. Most of the history of the region… Kingsport, Johnson City, Bristol, and even small towns, came about because of transportation,” Buchanan said.
From 1902 on, the train station was buzzing with people taking advantage of passenger rail. It was a service offered until 1971 when things changed.
Buchanan said rail service stopped and so did life in the building until the 80s. The site then became a mall that was full of vendors and eateries, but that also ended before the decade turned.
The station sat vacant until 1999 when the foundation took it over. The building was restored and reopened to the public in 2009 and hosted an array of events ever since.
To historians, it’s more than a landmark; Buchanan said the train station helped pave the way for progress in the region.
“They had electric lights when they built this in 1902,” he said. “That was even before the Bristol sign that was put up in 1910. There’s a lot of great and early history here, but it’s been the foundation of tourism, transportation, trade and industry for the region since Bristol, at that time, was the largest community in the area.”
It was one of the first establishments on State Street, standing tall for over 120 years and hopefully many more.
The train station was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. It’s one of the last remaining examples of N&W railroad depots built before the First World War.