Transportation Hubs (page 1)
Paths, roads, waterways, railroads, and highways are the transportation corridors of Virginia. The earliest transportation hubs formed at intervals, crossroads, or water crossings along paths and early roads. When travel was by foot, horseback, or stagecoach, stops for food, water, and rest were frequent. Inns, taverns, and ordinaries provided dinner, drink, and a night’s rest for weary travelers often on long journeys through isolated territory. At busier intersections, stores, mills, and residences often joined the inns, taverns, and ordinaries, creating a population center. New transportation hubs followed Virginia’s westward expansion. As horses gave way to automobiles, traffic increased but fewer people shopped in the small crossroads towns. Highway bypasses and interstates have left many crossroads communities intact but now quiet, with the bustle of in-town shoppers just a memory. Interstate exits that include chain hotels, motels, restaurants, malls, gas stations, and truck stops have become the new highway transportation hubs.
Railroads created new transportation hubs, often in places where a community wasn’t previously located. Early steam trains needed to stop every five to ten miles to take on water to keep the steam power going. The water tower built at each stop was soon followed by a depot, store, and mill and a road to access the new train stop. A train often stopped many times a day, providing ample opportunity for people, freight, and mail to travel. Stores, warehouses, mills, and other industries located nearby to take advantage of the ability to transport goods to a wider market. Several factors changed railroad travel, making many of the communities obsolete. In some communities, train tracks were removed as natural resources were depleted or automobile and truck travel reduced dependence on railroads for passenger and freight travel. Diesel engines that did not require water stops replaced steam engines just as traditional rail traffic diminished. The remaining railroads focused on faster transportation and more lucrative loads and no longer stopped at all of the small towns along the way. For the towns that still have depots, the trains pass through at high speed, carrying coal and other freight or passengers bound for metropolitan areas. The community that once supported the railroad is often nearly empty and must contend with the dangers of a train speeding through town.
Transportation hubs on Virginia’s waterways, including rivers, creeks, canals, and the Chesapeake Bay, connected areas more accessible by water than by land. Boats were used for travel, freight, and mail service. Towns developed around wharves and boat landings. While flat-bottomed batteaux quickly gave way to improved roads and railroads, the much-larger steamboats were critical to the development of eastern Virginia. Owners of stores, warehouses and industries were dependent on steamboats to ship livestock, produce, and manufactured items to and from the communities. Entertainers traveled by steamboat, bringing shows to otherwise isolated places. Bridges, road improvements, and several catastrophic fires brought an end to steamboat travel, though the romance of riding the rivers and the Chesapeake Bay still fascinates many. Some pilings remain in the rivers as a reminder of the bustling wharves that once dominated the scenery, but hurricanes have removed most traces of the steamboat era. Many places once dependent on steamboat service are now quiet, once again isolated from the outside world. (From Lost Communities of Virginia, p. 15-16)