About the History Research Center

In 2001, with Norfolk Southern planning to demolish the 1918 Southern Railway Depot in Chatham, the Pittsylvania Historical Society raised funds and purchased it. At that time, the depot was in a serious state of disrepair. The Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors stepped in and agreed to act as sponsor for a series of Federal Transportation Enhancement Grant applications to preserve the depot. Work on the project began in 2006.

The Pittsylvania County Public Library Board of Trustees and staff began working with the Pittsylvania Historical Society in 2008 when the Trustees approved the partnership. The Society’s concern was that the building would be renovated but underutilized without an ongoing plan. Nationally, the list of historical centers managed by public libraries is extensive and varied. Preservation of the cultural record of civilization is a core value of both libraries and historical societies.

The newly-established History Research Center and Library is modeled after the Bassett Historical Center in neighboring Henry County. Representatives from the library and the historical society toured the Bassett Center and saw the potential for a similar facility in Pittsylvania County.

The library system has several goals in operating the center.  The Veterans History Project, begun in 2007, collects, preserves, and makes available the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. The results of this collaboration are high-quality DVDs of local veterans recounting their experiences in World War II as well as other conflicts. A copy of each recording is sent to the Library of Congress; copies are retained locally and will be available for viewing in the depot.

In addition to preserving local veterans’ history, it is important to provide recognition of the contributions that a railroad presence had on the economic and social foundation of Chatham and Pittsylvania County. The station agent’s section contains a model train exhibit representing the 1874 rail line through the County. This line is commonly called the "Old 97” track, one that had numerous passenger stations in many small communities. A train-spotting platform adds to the recognition of the importance of rail transportation.

The Center is also a museum with temporary and permanent artifact exhibits, including clothing, tools, crafts, and photographs. The library provides computers for research as well as a state-of-the art microfilm reader/printer, printed resources, and databases.