Suffolk City Model (1907)

From the beginning it was planned to use the restored Suffolk Seaboard AirLine Railroad Station as a Railroad Museum, that would highlight the six railroads existing in Suffolk around 1907. These six railroads were the Seaboard AirLine, the Virginian (Tidewater), the Norfolk & Western, the Atlantic Coastline, the Atlantic & Danville, and the Suffolk & Carolina branch of the Norfolk Southern.

The Railroad Museum accomplished this through the construction of a model railroad layout in HO (1/87) scale that runs along the south wall of the Station through nearly half of the Station’s length. The model layout historically depicts the City of Suffolk and the Suffolk and Carolina branch of the Norfolk Southern Railroad as they appeared in the locally popular "1907 Birdseye View Map" of Suffolk (copies of which are available at the station). During the 1907 timeframe the Norfolk Southern railroad connected with the other five railroad lines in Suffolk, and it is modeled on the layout from the wharf on Nansemond River through the rail yard on the south side of town.

Most of the model was built with the assistance of members of the Tidewater Division of the Mid-Eastern Region of the National Model Railroad Association. The Division contributed not only the time and talents of its members, but also nearly 20% to 30% of the funds for construction-- all as a part of its activities designed to promote the Hobby of Model Railroading. The following describes the features of the layout and the work of the various modelers:


At the north end of the 1907 layout of Suffolk is the Norfolk and Southern railroad’s terminus at Constant’s Wharf on the Nansemond River. Here the railroad had facilities for loading locally cut lumber into lumber schooners for shipment up the Chesapeake Bay to customers in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Also located on the wharf are the Old Dominion Steamship Company’s facilities for handling general cargo and passengers destined northward. A fishing boat on the wharf is docked at the seafood business of W. L. Daughtrey and Son (note: the seafood business is currently incorrectly labeled as the Riddick-Withers Ice Company, a business previously located on the wharf which had closed down following the town’s electrification and the construction of a new ice manufacturing plant uptown).

(The wharf’s bulkheading was modeled by Jim McLemore; the wharf’s decking by Norm Garner; and the railroad’s warehouse, the Old Dominion Steamship Company’s warehouse, the seafood business, as well as both the lumber schooner at the railroad dock and the fishing boat further along the wharf were all modeled by Richard Hudson.)


Adjacent to Constant’s Wharf is the Nansemond County Courthouse area of Suffolk. Just up the hill from the seafood company is Victor Altschul’s home (by Jim McLemore) where his wife and daughter can be seen hanging out their laundry. Further uphill on the corner of Milner Street, is the site of the old Nansemond County Clerk’s Office building (awaiting the installation of the yet-to-be-completed model). Behind these structures facing Main Street, in the area between Milner Street and the Wharf, is a shanty town (built by Jim McLemore) where several of the local women are also shown hanging out their laundry--- apparently it must be Monday morning!! Three of the shanties are modeled with English basements , which had been constructed from stone used as ship ballast.

Across Milner Street, and facing Main, is the Nansemond County Courthouse, and beside it "Riddick’s Folly", both of which were originally built in 1837. (These two models, built by John M. "JJ" Johnson of Franklin, won First Place awards in the "Off-Line" category at the National Model Railroad Association National Conventions in 2002 and 2003 respectively. The models were entirely scratch-built from styrene plastic, and are extremely well done). Behind the County Courthouse is the jail and the privately owned homes of Phanny Walker and Dennis Field, the latter of whom can be seen sitting on his front porch (all modeled by Jim McLemore).


Overlooking the Wharf, at the back of the layout, is the old Allen or King farm. In 1907 the farm was owned by the Hurff family, who were then in the process of converting it into the new Kingsboro Heights Subdivision. Their farmhouse and barn can be seen overlooking the river. Below these structures is shown a track spur to the farm’s pond where the railroad had the right to draw water for its engines. A pasture and several cultivated fields are also depicted and show that farming operations were still continuing despite the construction of several "new" houses in the subdivision (all this area was modeled by Jim McLemore).

Access to the old King Farm originally had been via a lane running northward from the Seaboard Railroad; but with the Kingsboro subdivision promising a greater need, Mr. Hurff petitioned the Suffolk Town Council for the construction of a new bridge. In 1905 two new steel (with wood deck) bridges were built by the Virginia Iron and Bridge Company. The bridges extended from the north end of Pinner Street across the railroads to the "new" Kingsboro development. (Note: later in the 20th century the 2 bridges were replaced with a single bridge- now known as the Pinner Street Bridge). The Town of Suffolk constructed the longer bridge, which ran northward over the Seaboard Air Line Railroad and the new Tidewater (soon to be renamed the Virginian) Railway tracks to what was known as the Kilby Tract. The private developer by agreement with the railroad, then built the shorter bridge which turned eastward from the Kilby Tract and spanned the Norfolk Southern Railroad. (both bridges were modeled by Norm Garner from blue prints recorded in the Clerk’s Office of the shorter bridge).

This smaller bridge crosses the Norfolk Southern as it came up from the Wharf, and a connection was made with the Virginian Railway here by what was known as the Cemetery Hill Connector, a very steep grade. In front of this trackage is the old portion of Cedar Hill Cemetery, complete with its Confederate Monument (all modeled by Jim McLemore). Notice the funeral in progress at the front of the cemetery has been interrupted by a mishap – the coffin falling out of the rear of the horse drawn hearse (modeled from scratch by Eddie Adkins from photos of the modern-day R. W. Baker Funeral Home’s original hearse). The rear entrance to the cemetery comes in from Hill Street, which crosses both the Seaboard and the Virginian Railroads at grade. Between the two railroad lines on Hill Street is the new ice factory of the Shoop-Withers Company (modeled by Jim McLemore). Only a short distance further to the west is the Seaboard Railroad station itself (modeled by Tom Salmon), which served both railroads.


Proceeding south from the Seaboard Railroad, just east of the Norfolk Southern mainline, is a dirt lane (that eventually would become Moore Avenue). This lane serves an industrial district stretching along the railroad. The first industry along this road (and the railroad) is Col. McCleary’s Locomotive Works. This is a railroad repair facility (complete with transfer table), which worked on both standard gauge and narrow gauge railroad equipment (model yet to be completed). After the Locomotive Works the dirt lane intersects with Newport Street, which crosses the Norfolk Suffolk mainline by a narrow wooden bridge (modeled by Jim McLemore), before crossing the Seaboard connector/interchange track. The lane then passes the Benthall Machine Company (modeled by Sam Heatwole), a manufacturer of peanut harvesting equipment, and then the Standard Manufacturing Company’s Suffolk Brick Plant (by Jim McLemore).

The dirt road then intersects with Mill Street, which crosses the Norfolk Southern at grade, as it enters the Cramer Lumber Company mill complex that gave Mill Street its name. In 1909 this business was sold, and under its new name—The Montgomery Lumber Company—it continued in business through good times and bad for several decades thereafter. (The buildings in this complex were modeled by Jim McLemore and Dan Taber.)

After passing through this large lumber mill complex, the Norfolk Southern mainline crosses the double track mainline of the Norfolk & Western Railroad as it exits the Great Dismal Swamp to enter the Town of Suffolk. The Norfolk Southern also had a connector track to facilitate interchange with the Norfolk & Western. A tower (modeled by Jim McLemore) controlled this crossing. The Norfolk Southern then passes between what would become the Lummis Company warehouse building on its east (not yet modeled) and a boarding house and commercial building along Liberty Street (modeled by Jim McLemore) before crossing East Washington Street and entering the railroad yard.

On the east side of the Lummis complex, the Atlantic and Danville Railroad and the Atlantic Coastline Railroad also cross the N&W and then East Washington Street and enter the yard. The yard was used by all three lines: the Norfolk Southern, the Atlantic Coastline and the Atlantic and Danville Railroads.

Along the East Side of the Atlantic Coastline Railroad (along the back of the layout) is the Suffolk Lumber Company yard, and some sheds and maintenance buildings owned by the Atlantic Coastline. Then across East Washington and heading south is the Atlantic Coastline station (with built-in tower). Further down the track are the water tower and other Atlantic Coastline Railroad yard buildings, then the Ousler Brass and Iron Foundry, the Bell Knitting Mill, and the T. H. Debnam Factory. (The knitting mill was built by Jon T. Sleiva, and all the other structures, by Jim McLemore.) As the three lines leave the yard, they pass by two other factories, the five story L. F. Bain brick warehouse and the Atlantic and Danville water tower and wayside sheds (all built by Jim McLemore).

The Norfolk Southern itself, as it crosses East Washington, comes first to its own station (built by Jim McLemore), then passes by its engine terminal (most of the models for which are still under construction, though the car shop is in place, modeled by Neil Rish). A spur coming off of the engine yard lead serves the Philhower Planning Mill and lumberyard (by Jim McLemore) as well as the Bain warehouse building.

In 1907 the Norfolk Southern and the Atlantic Coastline Railroads proceeded southward out of town to North Carolina. This is depicted on the layout as tracks drawn onto the backdrop. The Atlantic and Danville Railroad tracks curved westward to head out of town toward Franklin. For operational reasons, the layout was built with all 3 railroads merging and curving westward (again note only the Atlantic & Danville Railroad actually did). This is to allow the model trains to turn around and proceed back around the layout through what is called a reversing loop. (Note there is also a reversing loop hidden by a tunnel under Kingsboro at the northern end of the layout.

Inside of this southern reversing loop is a farm (modeled by Jim McLemore) with farm house, barn, and pasture, as well as several fields, including one with peanut shocks (stacks) being pilfered by grazing deer who seem to be attracting the attention of no one except a lone barking dog upset by their presence.


The layout track plan was designed and developed by Jim McLemore, based on Courthouse records, old photos, maps, and other research. The tablework and electrical systems were designed by Bill Fay, who with the assistance of Norm Garner, the overall project chairman, was responsible for designing, connecting and debugging the miles of wire under the table that makes it all operate. In addition to the other models described above, it should be mentioned that the Virginian Railway bridge over the Norfolk Southern mainline was built by Norm Garner, and that of the Seaboard Railroad over the Norfolk Southern mainline (along with its extremely close-clearance stone bridge abutments) were built by Eddie Adkins, who also constructed all of the grade crossings. Most of the scenery was done by Jim McLemore, except for1) the marsh on Nansemond River, which was constructed by Dr. Miley Walker, and many of the trees which so lushly decorate the layout, which were constructed by Jim Keiper, Mike Robey, John Fallon, Chuck Davis, Celeste Robbins and her husband Max "the Train Doctor" Robbins (who has helped maintain some of the layout’s motive power).

Wednesday - Friday:
11:00 am - 4:00 pm
10:00 am - 3:00 pm
1:00 - 4:00 pm

326 N. Main Street
Suffolk, Virginia 23434
(757) 923-4750