Rural Retreat Train Depot Stakeholder Visioning

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Virginia Tech. Office of Economic Development


In spring 2016 the Rural Retreat Depot Foundation commissioned the Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development to assist in the visioning of the historic Rural Retreat Train Depot. This technical assistance included gathering background data on town and county demographics and industry trends, research on case studies and best practices, interviews with similar train depots, and conducting a stakeholder visioning meeting to determine possible uses of the train depot and examine how the train depot’s new function can best benefit the community. The Rural Retreat train depot was originally built in the 1850’s by the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad and was both a freight and passenger station. It burned down during the Civil War and was rebuilt in 1867 in the Italianate architectural style, and is one of only three depots in the nation remaining of similar design. In the mid-1900’s the depot was no longer used as a train station and was sold to a company that used it as a warehouse. Over the years, the building began to slowly deteriorate and the Rural Retreat Depot Foundation acquired the building in 2011. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. The Rural Retreat Train Depot Foundation formed to acquire, restore and manage Rural Retreat’s historic train depot as a means of preserving the culture of the region. The foundation is a non-profit organization whose board members include local business owners, a local food producer, local government officials and retired community members, many of whom have lived in Rural Retreat their entire lives. Each board member has a unique skill-set or interest such as music, local food, historic preservation, festivals, and Appalachian crafts. The foundation’s restoration master plan has two components: exterior restoration to the 1949 remodel condition and interior restoration to create an attractive, comfortable community space that will serve as the centerpiece for the town. The exterior restoration has largely been completed and interior restoration is ongoing. The train depot is currently home to a farmers market, available for community meetings, and is a versatile event rental space for family reunions, weddings, professional retreats, musical performances, and so on. The remainder of this report is broken up into four sections: 1) a review of select train depots in Appalachia and their reuses, 2) an overview of Rural Retreat regional data, 3) a summary of the April 27, 2016 Rural Retreat Visioning meeting, and 4) a synthesis of possible reuses for the train depot and recommendations.