FREE - Learn about the history of 5 key downtown buildings on your phone.
Enjoy this self-guided walking tour and discover the history behind the facade of five prominent downtown locations: Train Station, Marquis Building, Masonic Temple, Clock Tower, Old Firehouse.
The first train station was built in 1854 (since replaced).
The first train station building was built in 1854 by the Virginia Central Railroad. On June 6, 1864, General David Hunter entered Staunton with his Union troops. They set fire to many buildings, and burned down the railroad depot. That depot was replaced by another, which in 1905 was replaced by the one now standing, designed by T.J. Collins. The water tower behind the station dates from around 1903.
The area around the train station was called The Wharf. When trains unloaded cargo, it was carried across the road on long wooden planks, much like ship wharfs, into the warehouse buildings on the other side. At the turn of the century circuses would arrive by train to perform in Staunton.
Designed for Confederate Captain J. C. Marquis.
Built in 1895 by Staunton’s renowned architect T. J. Collins, the building was designed for Confederate Captain J. C. Marquis, and was originally called the Marquis Building. It was completed just before the Great Flood of 1896 which severely damaged several buildings nearby.
Local lore says that to circumvent an old rule against hanging a commercial sign, the building owner installed the large object seen there today, then argued successfully that because it carried no words it did not violate the no-sign law.
When built it was the tallest building in Staunton.
Construction of the Masonic Temple began in 1895. When it was built, the Masonic Temple was the tallest building in Staunton. It is five stories tall, not including the cellar and gable rooms. It was also the first building with an elevator, and the first to have been built wired for electricity.
Staunton’s Masonic lodge, founded in 1786, was the 13th in Virginia (the address for the Masonic Temple is also 13 West Beverley). Meriwether Lewis, of Thomas Jefferson’s Lewis and Clark expedition, was an early member of the lodge (Lewis later died under mysterious circumstances at age 35).
The main front gable includes a terra-cotta panel with a carved square and compass, both symbols of Freemasonry.
There is an observation tower on the left top of the building. Local legend says that it was designed to be a bell tower, but for reasons now forgotten a bell was never installed.
Local legend also says that when the building was completed, many people thought that the courthouse should be the tallest building in Staunton. To claim the status of tallest building, a Lady Justice statue was installed on top of the courthouse to add additional height. But also for reasons long forgotten, the statue is not blindfolded, as is usually depicted in other Lady Justice statues.
Originally YMCA and library.
The clock tower building was built on the former site of a Lutheran church. The clock’s tower projected out from the building so that it could be seen up and down the street. It also rang—and continues to do so even today—on every hour, so that those who could not see the clock face could still track the passing hours.
The YMCA and its library that was open to the public originally occupied the building until 1915, then later it housed department stores, including a Woolworth’s.
The building was remodeled around 1930 with a smaller clock tower.
Local legend says that in the 1930’s the clock in the tower stopped, and no one could figure out why. Three weeks passed and then, just as mysteriously, it began to work again, showing the correct time.
The oldest continuously operated fire company in Virginia.
The Staunton Fire and Rescue Department, founded in 1790, is the oldest continuously operated fire company in Virginia.
In August, 1910, a giant sinkhole opened up on Baldwin Street, swallowing several trees and a building near the old firehouse. It was feared the firehouse and new school building beside it would fall into the 60-foot deep pit, but fortunately they did not. It was believed that a water well drilled beneath the Smith Fuel and Ice Company created voids in the limestone caverns under the town and caused the ground to collapse.
Visit Jumbo the 1911 fire engine on display in the current Staunton fire house museum (500 North Augusta Street, Staunton, VA 24401).