Kemper Street Station - History
Kemper Street Station has served Lynchburg continuously since October 31, 1912. At that time, Southern Railway was working to improve its service between Atlanta and Washington, D.C. — and Lynchburg posed something of a problem. Although the city’s Lower Basin area had been a rail hub since before the Civil War, the tracks in that area were becoming sorely congested, thanks to heavy passenger loads at the downtown station and constant freight traffic headed to factories along the riverfront.
The solution to this congestion cost the Southern Railway around $3,000,000, and required the construction of new trestles, a tunnel, a bridge ... and, of course, a new train station located well away from the busy Lower Basin.
Milburn, Heister & Company, an architectural firm from Washington, D.C., handled the design of the new station. Architect Frank P. Milburn drafted plans for an efficient, two-level structure that made extensive use of cast iron in both structural and ornamental details.
Above all, Milburn’s designs emphasized functionality. Originally, the station’s ground floor was just a simple utility area, housing a mail room, baggage room, a telegraph office, and the boiler room. The station’s top floor held the ticket office and waiting area, a newsstand, and washrooms. Passengers reached the train platforms via a covered, elevated concourse that crossed over the tracks and led down to the trains with two sets of covered stairs. The train platforms were protected by two 500-foot shelters (one on each side of the tracks).
As soon as construction was complete, the new station was serving nine northbound and nine southbound trains a day, all bound for diverse points between New Orleans and New York City.
Less than five years after the station opened, America entered WWI, and thousands of troops passed through Kemper Street on their way to Europe. Kemper Street also hosted a steady procession of troop trains during World War II. (By that point, Lynchburg had earned the nickname “Lunchburg,” from the soldiers, because troops were often given meals in paper bags by local Red Cross volunteers as trains paused at Kemper Street and Union stations.)
As commercial air travel increased during the 1960’s, Kemper Street station became less important to local travelers. By the 70’s, neglect of the building and grounds was beginning to be evident ... and by the 1990’s, it was downright dilapidated.
Fortunately, renewed interest in the station triggered efforts during the late 1990’s to raise funds for the building’s renovation—which ultimately included the addition of bus services to the site. (After Amtrak moved its operations down to the track level in 2001, Greyhound Bus Lines and the Greater Lynchburg Transit Company’s customer service center both opened offices on the street level of the station in January of 2002.)
Today, with renovations complete, Kemper Street Station once again effectively serves the region ... as a modern bus and rail terminal with a dash of antique charm.