The (Rail)road to Culpeper

Culpeper Travel Blog

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Amtrak's Cardinal at Culpeper

I enjoy travel by train and you'll find a train trip of one sort or another appearing in many of my blogs. So, when the opportunity presented itself to go on a brief outing via Amtrak with a group of similar rail travel enhusiasts, I signed up. The plan was to ride the Amtrak Cardinal from Washington, DC, as far as Culpeper Virignia, spend a few hours in the town, and then ride the inbound Cardinal back to Washington. (The Cardinal is a three-times per week long-distance train from Washington to Chicago via Virginia, West Virignia, and Cincinnati. It's named for the state bird of four of the states through which it passes.)  Usually, a visit to Culpeper would be day trip by car. (We passed through Culpeper on the way to Monticello, earlier in this blog.

Visitor Center (Amtrak Station)
) It's not far away, less than 70 miles (116 km). How would it be to travel there by train?

Sunday morning began with overcast skies, but the rain overnight was ending. The forecast was for clear skies by afternoon. I drove from Springfield up to Washington via I-395, exited at Massachusetts Ave., and then over to the Union Station parking garage.  Amtrak boarded the group early, at 10:45 a.m. for the scheduled 11:10 a.m. departure. At 11:10, we learned there was a problem. The headlight was not working the on the locomotive and a replacement engine would be substituted. That process took about 25 minutes. (Reminded me of the time I was flying from Washington National and the aircraft was recalled from the taxiway because of a malfunctioning instrument.) We were on the way at 11:34 a.

Visitor Center (Amtrak station)
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The train made scheduled stops at Alexandria and Manassas. I noted at least one passenger boading at Manassas was traveling to Charlottesville, the next stop after Culpeper. So, the train was used for short-distance travel after all. Most interesting! After Manassas, the landscape gives way to rolling Piedmont farmland much more quickly than along parallel U.S. Highway 29 a short distance to the West.

The Cardinal arrived at Culpeper at 1:00 p.m. I disembarked at the former Southern Railway station, now renovated as the Culpeper Visitor Center.

Raven's Nest cafe
Three hours to scope out Culpeper. What to do? The Visitor Center was the first stop to gather information.  The vistor center docent supplied a map and a complimentary booklet on walking tours around the town. I'd read about the self-guided tours in advance onte Vistor Center's web site, so I was prepared for some urban hiking with my outdoor socks and shoes.

The station is at the foot of Davis Street, within a block of the downtown central business district. It's only a moment until you're inthe center of things. It was lunchtime, too. Seveal nice restaurants were open, but were a bit expensive. A few interesting downtown cafes were unfortunately closed (it being Sunday). I settled on the Raven's Nest, really a coffee bar. But, they had a few lunch specials, so I enjoeyd a Mexican Chicken Casserole along with a cappucino.

St. Stephen's Church (1821)
Raven's Nest was a happening place, where Sunday afternoon literati gathered with their books and laptops. I had my reading material, too, and studied the walking tour guidebook. There were four circuits. I decide there would be time to walk two of them.

I started around the corner at St. Stephen's Church. This is an Episcopal Church dating to 1821 and is similar in design to pre-Revolutionary War brick churches in Fairfax County. Therefore, I first thought the steeple was a modern addition. But, it dates to about 1860. 

The center of town is at Main and Davis Streets. A number of restored late 19th century commercial buildings are in use as restaurants, antique shops, gourmet food stores, gift shops, and craft stores. At this corner is the A.

Davis Street
P. Hill Boyhood Home. (A.P. Hill was a famous Confederate officer during the Civil War. He had formerly been a U.S. Army officer and was so well respected by both sides that the U.S. Army's Fort A. P. Hill was named for him.) Down the street is the Courthouse. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Courthouse was the administrative center for counties in Virginia.  Culpeper was founded and the town laid out in 1759 (George Washington surveyed the town plat) because that is where the Courthouse for the county had been established. A block from the Courthouse is Antioch Baptist Church. The African-American congregation was established in 1859 and the present frame structure completed in 1886.

Moving south along Main Street, more interesting restaurants came into view.

Davis Street
There was a Peruvian restaurant on one side of the street and Thai Culpeper on the other. I wished I had known about them! (I wondered if Thai Culpeper was related to Thai Winchester where I enjoyed lunch three weeks before.) 

A side trip down Stevens Street led to Culpeper National Cemetery. The cemetery was established in 1867 for internemtn of Union soldiers killed in Civil War battles around Culpeper and Orange Counties. Several states, including New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, erected monuments to their units. The quiet neighboring residental area has houses in many different styles of architecture. The guidebook noted the Episcopal Rectory was located here. The guidebook indicated that the orignal log walls were in palce. I expected I might find a log cabin, but the frame house is typcial vernacular house of the period.

Main Street corner
 The guidebook notes that its large basement was a place of refuge for townsfolk during the Civil War.  

I ventured as far as the Minutemen Monument. It's a small obelisk, like a miniature Washington Monument. (The photo is bizarre with the rental truck in the background, but that's the best shot I could get.) It commemorates the mustering of the Culpeper Minute Men in 1775. (Yes, there were Revoutionary War Minute Men in the Virginia Colony, too!) Near here is the Culpeper Musuem. I wasn't able to spend as much time there as I would have liked, as it was now getting on to 4:00 p.m. Time to return to the station.

When I arrived back at the station, there was news. The northbound Cardinal was delayed and would not arrive at Culpeper until 6:30 pm.

A.P. Hill's boyhood home
(Guess I could have taken more time at the museum. But, best to stick around the station should something develop.) The Visitor Center offered an inside waiting area until it closed at 5:00 p.m. The nearby Raven's Nest had heard of the situation and staryed open for passengers past its closing time. Very hospitable. 

The northbound Cardinal did arrive at 7:00 p.m., three hours late. Departure for Washington was at 7:06 p.m. (The train is scheduled to leave Chicago at 3:45 p.m. the previous day, so always has been underway for at least 24 hours by the time it reaches Culpeper.) The train was packed, but every passenger had a seat. It was interesting to me to see the number of laptops and portable DVD players in use among the passengers. (The coaches have electrical outlets at each seat.

Culpeper County Courthouse (1874)
) I made my way to the Dinette/Lounge car for something to eat. On this train, half the food service car offers table service and half is a casual lounge. The menu is not as extensive as on a full-service dining car and there is takeaway food as well. Takeaway food included cheesburgers, ham and cheese sandwiches, and tuna sandwiches. I opted for a cheeseburger. (Really, it was better than some brand-name fast food burgers I've experienced. But, it could have used lettuce and tomatoes.) I noted my seatmate opted for a muffin and yogurt.

The Cardinal ran on its scheduled time and we arrived back at Washington Union Station at 8:36 p.m.

vulindlela says:
Nice photos!
It's so fun to ride the rails.
Posted on: Mar 23, 2008
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Amtraks Cardinal at Culpeper
Amtrak's Cardinal at Culpeper
Visitor Center (Amtrak Station)
Visitor Center (Amtrak Station)
Visitor Center (Amtrak station)
Visitor Center (Amtrak station)
Ravens Nest cafe
Raven's Nest cafe
St. Stephens Church (1821)
St. Stephen's Church (1821)
Davis Street
Davis Street
Davis Street
Davis Street
Main Street corner
Main Street corner
A.P. Hills boyhood home
A.P. Hill's boyhood home
Culpeper County Courthouse (1874)
Culpeper County Courthouse (1874)
Antioch Baptist Church (1886)
Antioch Baptist Church (1886)
State monuments at Culpeper Nation…
State monuments at Culpeper Natio…
Culpeper National Cemetery
Culpeper National Cemetery
Pennsylvania Monument
Pennsylvania Monument
Episcopal Rectory (1835)
Episcopal Rectory (1835)
Minutemen Monument
Minutemen Monument
The Cardinal returns
The Cardinal returns
Amfleet coach interior
Amfleet coach interior
Culpeper
photo by: Andy99