Main Street Station

1500 E Main St Richmond

From Civil War to Civil Rights/Main Street Station
American Civil War Museum
Written By American Civil War Museum

The mission of The American Civil War Museum is to be the preeminent center for the exploration of the American Civil War and its legacies from multiple perspectives: Union and Confederate, enslaved and free African Americans, soldiers and civilians.

On the eve of the Civil War, Richmond was home to five railroads, radiating from the city like the spokes of a wheel. The Virginia Central Railroad, the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad, the Richmond, Petersburg, the York, and the Richmond, Danville Railroad. Initially none of these railroads were connected, so goods had to be unloaded at one depot and brought by wagon to another to continue their journey. During the war in an attempt to remedy the problem, a connecter rail was built to run down 8th Street to connect the RF&P Depot to the Richmond, Petersburg Depot. Also, in 1862, temporary tracks were laid along Broad Street between the Virginia Central Depot and the RF& P Depot at 8th and Broad to allow the Virginia Central to shift its engines when fighting east of the city stifled its operations. The depots and bridges of the Richmond Danville and Richmond Petersburg Railroads were destroyed during the evacuation fire, but it did not take long for the railroads to resume their operation. They grew and changed over the years, acquiring new names and ownership. In 1901 construction was completed on this building, Main Street Station, designed to serve as a union station for the Seaboard Air Line Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. These two lines in addition to the Southern Railway line formed the a triple crossing —the only one in the United States. In January of 1900, four years after the U. S. Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson upheld the “separate but equal” doctrine, the Virginia General Assembly passed “An Act to Require Railroad Companies to Provide Separate Cars for White and Colored Passengers.” The General Assembly went a step further in 1904, passing legislation that allowed but did not require segregation on street cars. After restrictions were put in place African Americans boycotted the streetcars for over a year, walking instead of riding. The boycott definitely cut into the profits of the transit companies and could have resulted in change but in 1906 passed a law mandating segregation in all forms of public transportation. Dave Klepper, a young Jewish boy traveling from New York to see his sister in Richmond, witnessed this segregation in the mid 1940s.

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“They lived on Richmond’s north side, and I had specific instructions (from the Main Street Station on the Chesapeake and Ohio train from Charlottesville) to take the Broad and Main car to Broad Street, then the Ginter Park streetcar, changing to the Northside Avenue bus…. In New York City…often the motorman’s seat at the rear of the…car was not folded away, and I could enjoy an “observation-car” ride through the city….I thought I could do the same in Richmond. As soon I sat down, a well-dressed black woman said: “Sonny, the rear of the streetcars is for us black people, please join the white people in the front of the car.” I was not a Rosa Parks and did what she suggested. But it reminded me of what I had seen in the newsreel [of German soldiers marching through the streets of Warsaw, Poland], and sparked an interest in learning what were the causes of segregation.”
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