Retired train station keeps railway mail history alive
Posted: January 14, 2013
The Winchester Star
BOYCE — When it was built in 1913, the Boyce railroad station was “like putting Dulles Airport in your backyard. It was your gateway to the world,” said the building’s current owner, Frank Scheer of Alexandria.
The station, no longer in use, marks its 100th anniversary this year.
Though Norfolk-Southern trains pass regularly through the town, population 589, none of them stops these days. The station closed in 1959.
But the station still has a purpose: It’s home to the Railway Mail Service Library, a repository for the history and artifacts of the era when trains delivered mail as well as freight and passengers to stops along their routes.
Scheer bought the station in 2003, although the land it sits on still belongs to the railroad.
A purchasing and supply management specialist for the U.S. Postal Service, Scheer has dedicated years to collecting the history of how trains assisted the mail service.
And what better place for a museum dedicated to the days when mail was moved and sorted on the train than a train station?
“It ties in very well,” he said.
Mail used to arrive at the station, Scheer said, and mail clerks worked about train cars, sorting and directing the flow of communication.
When the Boyce station was desegregated by the railroad in 1955, the larger of its two waiting rooms was rented to the U.S. Post Office Department.
Boyce residents were served there until a new post office was built in 1984.
The current Boyce station is only three years younger than the town it served.
Boyce grew up along the intersection of the Berry’s Ferry Turnpike and the Shenandoah Valley Railroad, which had a station there in the 1880s.
The Norfolk & Western Railway bought out Shenandoah Valley in 1890 and began a series of improvements in the early 1900s, construct a new railroad passenger station in 1912, but the young town of Boyce wasn’t satisfied with the modest wooden building the N&W planned.
P.H. Mayo persuaded the N&W to put up a “first class” station, Scheer said.
The building had masonry construction with a stucco finish, electric lighting, central heating and inside rest rooms, in addition to 14-foot ceilings and clerestory windows for better air circulation in the summer.
Local residents Hattie Gilpin and R. Powell Page joined Mayo in putting up an additional $17,500, to make $25,000 available to build the station.
A Richmond resident, Mayo was a large landowner east of Boyce. He and his brother owned the American Tobacco brand and manufactured cigarettes in the state capital.
Moneyed landowners were willing to spend money on amenities they were going to use, Scheer said — they could get on the train in Boyce at midnight, go to sleep and wake up in New York.
In addition to the many cars full of freight that came into and left Boyce, Scheer said there were special express cars used for taking Clarke County’s expensive horses to races and shows on the East Coast.
At least one home in Boyce arrived in pieces at the station and was moved west on Main Street to be erected on a south side lot.
Brick for some of the larger homes also came to Boyce by rail, Scheer said.
The station offered other services as well.
“There was Railway Express — the equivalent of UPS today — so you could pick up packages at the station,” Scheer said.
Telegram also could be sent from the station via Western Union.
In honor of the founder of Morse code, Samuel Morse, an open house will be held at the station on April 27, with an Internet interface set up so that the old telegraph equipment can be used again to send messages.
“We’re going to show people how to do telegraphy and have a cookout,” Scheer said.
The event is free and open to the public.
In October, Scheer will hold a celebration to mark the building’s 100th anniversary. He’s still working out the details.
“If I look this good when I’m 100 years old, I’ll feel pretty good,” Scheer said of the station, which was built by John P. Pettyjohn & Company.
Where Scheer lives in Alexandria, he said he can feel the vibration of a train for blocks around.
Inside the Boyce station, even with trains passing right outside the walls, “you can sit in here and there’s almost no vibration,” he said.
Though it needs some cosmetic fixes, the core of the building is “built like a rock,” he said. “The railroad typically over-engineered anyway.”
Since the station closed on Jan. 1, 1959, it has been a storage place, a charity operation, a restaurant and a woodworking shop, but its floor plan remains basically unchanged.
Scheer has collected original N&W furniture to replicate the station master’s office at Boyce.
The N&W had its own carpentry shop in Roanoke, he said, and made and marked all the furniture used in its stations “so people wouldn’t steal it.”
He also has acquired a photograph of Station Master Sylvester M. Lane sitting in his office at the station in 1934.
Lane was one of four agents assigned to the station during its 45 years in operation. Morton J. Dunlap and T.M. Sheetz preceded Lane and L.C. Murray followed him. Scheer said Dunlap was also a member of the Boyce Town Council.
Scheer hasn’t been able to find the exact date when the Boyce station opened.
“Maybe, someday, we’ll be able to figure that out,” he said.
Construction started in the spring of 1913, so by October of that year, he said it should have been substantially completed.
“If anyone has more information, I’d love to know,” Scheer said.
To contact Scheer, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org call 540-837-9046.
— Contact Val Van Meter at email@example.com