The Rural Retreat Depot Foundation was established in 2011, with its mission to acquire, restore, and manage the historic Rural Retreat Depot for the benefit of the community, and to preserve the culture of the region. As purchased, the Depot had been abandoned by the railroad for over 40 years, and was in serious disrepair. With 85% of the financial support coming from private donors, the Depot was restored to its 1949 appearance, and a grand opening was held in 2017. The Depot reopened as a meeting venue and a museum. It is managed by an all-volunteer leadership team comprised of the board and officers.
The original Depot was completed in 1855, and was expanded and remodeled in 1949, before it was abandoned in the early 1970’s. The restoration plan was to return the 1949 ‘look’, retaining as much of the original structure and materials as possible, while integrating HVAC and fiber-optic AV capabilities. Meeting spaces were created from the large freight room and the telegraph office, holding up to 80 and 20 people respectively, and museum space was created from the waiting rooms and baggage room.
Because of its affordability and historic charm, the Depot has become a popular venue for weddings, reunions, and all sorts of other celebrations. Rental revenue from these events now covers a significant portion of our operating costs of utilities, insurance, and part-time contractors for scheduling and cleaning. However, the Depot Foundation still depends upon ongoing private support to preserve this historic structure, and to provide educational, entertainment, and cultural programs for the community. As example, our no-fee Farmers Market at the Depot will return for its 11th season this summer, featuring live Appalachian music and sometimes student cloggers to liven things up. Benefit performances are hosted to support other local non-profits including the Library and the Music Club. Large public celebrations, featuring food, music, and more are held for Dr Pepper Day, Mountains of Music Homecoming, Depot Day, and more. In 2022, the Depot hosted 81 private events and 11 farmers markets, drawing over 4,000 attendees to the Depot and to Rural Retreat.
The Evelyn Lahman History Museum at the Depot was so-named for one of our devoted supporters in the early days. The Lahman Museum has become a trusted repository for valued railroad and local historical pieces and lore. The Depot, the Town of Rural Retreat, and indeed many of Southwest Virginia towns exist because of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad construction in the 1850's. Many of our aging citizens have some tie to the railroad, and as the 'railroad generation' moves on, the Layman Museum seeks to collect and preserve that history and heritage. Going forward, we will place greater emphasis and resources towards organizing and displaying our collections, including the introduction of touchscreen kiosks for our exhibits.
A few examples of the current projects and programs that may be funded by donations to the Depot Foundation include development of museum exhibits for newly donated artifacts, a portable stage for musical performances, and funds to compensate regional heritage musical and dance performers. The Depot Foundation has created an historic, attractive, and affordable venue, in which members of our community may gather to celebrate, to remember, or to be educated or entertained. All donations to this Foundation directly expand and enrich our programs to benefit the community and to preserve the culture of the region.