Norfolk and Western Railway archives have a new home

The Norfolk Southern Corporation is donating its complete collection of historical documents and archives from predecessor company Norfolk and Western Railway to the Virginia Museum of History & Culture (VMHC).

The collection dates from the 1840s and includes thousands of photographs and glass plate negatives, as well as business records, annual reports, blueprints, plans, bridge drawings, advertisements, portraits, and three-dimensional artefacts from predecessor railroads that together provide a detailed look into the growth of rail transport across the eastern United States. The company will also donate $750,000 to support the collection in perpetuity.

Norfolk and Western started as a nine-mile single-track line in 1838 connecting Petersburg and City Point (now Hopewell), Virginia. In the years to follow, more than 200 railroad companies were built, merged, reorganized, and consolidated until the company merged with Southern Railway in 1982 to create Norfolk Southern. Since then, Norfolk Southern has grown to become one of the USA’s largest freight railroads. In total, the archives represent the history of Norfolk and Western and its predecessor companies.

Welcoming the collection, VMHC President & CEO, Jamie Bosket, said: “With the addition of the Norfolk and Western collection, the Virginia Museum of History & Culture now houses one of the most significant railroad archives in the U.S. We’re thrilled to preserve this iconic history and to make it publicly available to students and teachers, researchers, and railroad enthusiasts.”

Among the historic materials in the archives are publicity materials including radio program scripts and posters, timetables, and rolling stock records as well as advertisements, contracts, an extensive collection of photographs, and construction plans for rail stations and yards.

The $750,000 grant will allow the VMHC to digitise, catalogue and preserve the collection. As part of the donation, Norfolk Southern has created a special fund to allow the VHMC to hire interns from underrepresented communities to support the museum’s work annually for the next five years.


Norfolk & Western Railways caboose – James St. John (CC BY 2.0)
N&W’s locomotive #611 in 1959 – G. Howard Gregory (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
…still glamorous in 2015! – NCTM (CC BY-SA 3.0)


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