Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Petersburg VA Depot to be Restored

Petersburg South Side Depot to be restored as Civil War Center

The historic South Side Depot in Old Towne Petersburg will be restored, and eventually it will house a visitor's center devoted to interpreting the Civil War.

Petersburg will have its own version of Richmond's visitor-friendly collaboration at Tredegar Iron Works when a restoration being announced today is completed.

The city of Petersburg and Petersburg National Battlefield will begin stabilization and restoration of the South Side Depot in Old Towne Petersburg with $400,000 in Transportation Enhancement grants from the state and a $100,000 match from the Civil War Trust. The building eventually will house a visitor's center where park rangers will interpret Petersburg's Civil War history.

The Civil War Trust also is receiving a $448,000 Transportation Enhancement grant toward the purchase of 81 acres at Cemetery Hill near Blandford Cemetery. The land is part of a $1.1 million campaign by the trust to protect 120 acres associated with fighting around the city during the last year of the war. Acquisition of the Cemetery Hill property will require $750,000 of that total.

The two historic preservation projects will be announced today at a 10 a.m. news conference featuring leaders of the city, state, battlefield and Civil War Trust. Officials plan to gather on the cobblestones of River Street at the South Side Depot, whose tall windows and distinctive cupola date to 1854.

The land at Cemetery Hill will be placed under a perpetual conservation easement and is slated to be incorporated into Petersburg National Battlefield. The trust also has applied for funding from the Virginia Civil War Sites Preservation Fund and is raising money from trust members.

Cemetery Hill was held continuously by Union troops for more than nine months during the siege of Petersburg. The site factored into the battles of Petersburg on June 18, 1864; the Crater on July 30, 1864; and Fort Stedman on March 25, 1865, according to the Civil War Trust. Those battles accounted for a combined 20,500 casualties — a quarter of those seen in the entire campaign.

The South Side Railroad was the final railroad to be severed by Union forces. When it was captured on April 1, 1865, said Mary Koik, spokeswoman for the Civil War Trust, "it was a foregone conclusion" that Petersburg would surrender. Richmond surrendered a day later.

A room on the second floor of the depot was used as an office after the war by Confederate Gen. William Mahone, a railroad president who later was a founder of Virginia State University.

Having a national park site in downtown Petersburg will allow the battlefield to "reach out to new audiences who haven't come to the park and help them learn more," said park Superintendent Lewis Rogers.

"I'm African-American. When I grew up, I didn't think there was anything in the Civil War for me. I learned there were African-Americans who fought in the Civil War, and Native Americans who fought in the Civil War, both of which fought at Petersburg.

"We want to reach out to the urban population … and to become more a part of fabric of the community. We have four sites, but most are out in more rural areas. … We want the opportunity to be right in town and be part of the fabric of the community. We hope it will also help stimulate the economy."

Officials predicted that the site would draw tens of thousands of heritage tourists each year.