South Side Railroad Depot
Built in 1854, South Side Depot is the oldest railroad station in Virginia. This depot served the South Side Railroad line, the last railroad left operating during the Siege of Petersburg. When Union troops finally severed the rail line, it ensured the surrender of Petersburg and Richmond, bringing the war to an end. In recent years the station served as a back-drop for the movie Lincoln and television series TURN. The station played a critical role as part of the Confederate logistical efforts during the Siege of Petersburg in 1864-1865. In 2017, extensive repairs to the center two-story block are being completed in preparation for building becoming a visitors’ contact center for the Petersburg National Battlefield.
Backstory and Context
The South Side Depot, the South Side Railroad line, and three other rail lines in the vicinity were considered vitally important to the survival of the Confederate capital in Richmond, VA and thus, to the entire Confederacy. Thousands of Confederate soldiers rode into the city and stopped at the facility. In the final year of the war, these key rail links became the target of Union Army forces under General Ulysses S. Grant who sought to cut off supplies and communication to General Robert E. Lee’s army and the Confederate capital of Richmond – 20 miles to the north.
The last rail line controlled by the Confederate troops was the South Side Railroad, which was served in Petersburg by the South Side Depot. When Union troops gained control of the South Side Railroad in April, 1865, it effectively ended the siege of Petersburg, and Lee’s army surrendered a week later on April 9th at Appomattox Court House.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the depot has a gable roof, a Greek Revival doorway, Italianate sawn brackets, three bays, and paired round-arched windows inscribed within a single round arch in the side bays. The original cupola was removed at some point in the station’s history and was reconstructed along with the entire roof after the tornado of 1993 which largely destroyed the east wing of the depot. The central portion of the building has main and upper floors; each floor has four separate rooms in addition to hallway and utility space.
Following the Civil War, the two-story center block was former Confederate General William Mahone's office and the state headquarters for his radical Republican Readjuster Party. General Mahone worked extensively to advance the African-American population in Virginia. In the early 1880s, the Readjuster party achieved many progressive reforms, including the establishment of Virginia State University and Central State Hospital. By the late 1880s, the Readjuster's political power was diminished by a reactionary conservative movement.
Scott, James G. and Wyatt, Edward A., IV. Petersburg’s Story: A History. Petersburg, VA: Titmus Optical, 1960.
African American Historical Sites Database
National Park Service, South Side Depot: Boundary Adjustment Study and Environmental Assessment, 2009.