Making Tracks
April 2024


Model Railroad Museum of Hampton Roads
 - A Model Railroader's Dream

By Greg Warth

How many of us have had a dream of building a model railroad? Some of us have actually accomplished it within their own homes or clubs. I’ve always loved trains since I was six years old and got that first American Flyer around the Christmas tree. And as I was growing up, I would occasionally get to see a real layout built by one of my friend’s fathers. I loved seeing that and I always knew I wanted to build one for myself. I finally started the process in 1990 and after the 5th generation of layouts built and torn down, at age 76, I now have a small semblance of my original dream, in N scale, in a small room partitioned off the attic. It’s not perfect but I enjoy it.

The fun of doing that has never resolved, and even now, I am building new and smaller layouts, just because it’s…well, fun. And I want to share that enjoyment with others. And now, over the past 3 years, several of my model railroad companions and I have invested a huge amount of time and energy into a new dream. This new dream is to create great layouts for others to see and enjoy and operate – something special and spectacular - something people will be excited to see and continue to visit over and over again. We are driven to accomplish this, just for the love of the hobby, if for no other reason, and to see the fun and excitement in others’ eyes, young and old alike, when they see it.

We knew this wouldn’t be easy, but when you’re driven by a dream, you just keep at it ‘till you get it. Quitting is not an option. So, we have the desire, we have the knowhow, we have the plans, we have the nonprofit organization, and we have found several possible locations. So, what’s the problem? 

None of us in our group has the personal financial resources that it would take to accomplish this. We are all donating what we can on a monthly basis to help grow the Museum’s bank account, but it’s slow going. We need a benefactor, but the two philanthropists that I’ve talked to want to see a facility, a building, where this would be accomplished, a place where the dream can be visualized. Plus, they want to see that we have some “skin in the game” so to speak.

One suggestion is to request some support from all the model railroaders in the area who would like to see this Museum develop. If all of us could provide a pledge of a certain amount per month of what we can afford, this would go a long way to help decide what kind of facility we could lease. We would like to get something at least as big as the space we had at Fairfield ~ around 4000 sq.ft. just to get started. This would just be a pledge, not an actual payment yet. That would come later when we get a place. We just need to know how many would be willing to do this. We will also ask the public to contribute pledges as well. And we are continuing our quest for grants from major model railroad sellers and manufacturers.

Please note that this suggestion has nothing to do with membership in the NMRA, the MER, or the Tidewater Division. It is a total separate entity that requires support from you as an individual model railroader. A few have already stepped up to the plate and for that we are greatly appreciative.

We will get there eventually. As mentioned, quitting is not an option. We are dedicated to this project and will see it to its completion. Our dream is to one day see those doors open to those who love trains, models, and railroad history. We hope that is your dream as well.

If you wish to make a pledge, please let us know by sending an email to, or go to this page. Thank you.

Birth of Virginia Beach
Part 9 in a Series by Warren Leister, Historian

Vue de L'Eall.1873 Vue De L’Eau Hotel at Sewell’s Point

Marshall Jr. became involved in a new resort project called the “Vue De L’Eau Hotel at Sewell’s Point {Vue De L’Eau means ‘View of the water’ in French}. No doubt his deep experience in hospitality played a role in his participation in this new venture located where today there is the largest naval base in the world!

 A description of the hotel is stated in an opening announcement in the Norfolk Virginian dated May 29, 1872 as a first class watering place by the seaside. Besides the hotel, there was a restaurant, billiard saloons, ten pin bowling alleys, and bath houses. There were also facilities for large picnic parties for use by local schools and organizations available.

In response to the building of this new hotel, the Norfolk and Sewell’s Point Railroad was incorporated in the Virginia General Assembly according to the Richmond Dispatch dated February 10, 1872 and Marshall Jr. was listed as one of the key incorporators. Though the railroad is ultimately never built to support this facility Sewell’s Point it is a prelude to the concept and implementation of similar facility later at Virginia Beach as we shall see further into this story. Of course, Virginia Beach asa city or even a town doesn’t yet exist in this timeframe in1872.

From the book “Meet Marshall Parks, first edition 1984,” Marshall Jr. also became involved and was responsible for building the Fairfield Canal in North Carolina. “In 1872, the Fairfield Canal Company entered into a contract with the Albemarle & Chesapeake Canal Company (A&C) for the A&C to excavate with their steam dredges a proposed canal in Hyde County - from the headwaters of the Alligator River to Lake Mattamuskeet. The purpose of the canal was to drain the surrounding countryside to improve the land, and for a valuable feeder waterway for proposed steamboat service. It was completed in 1874 and was 4.5 miles long and 6.5 feet deep.”

The Fairfield Canal is cited in one of the Albemarle & Chesapeake Canal Company's Annual Report from 1872-1880 as "the only other navigable canal {other than the A&C} in North Carolina" at the time. This report also states that the A&C owned 50% of the Fairfield Canal Company's stock, and that A&C owned a small steamboat running to and from Elizabeth City tri-weekly.

 Ultimately this canal silted over from erosion and disuse. Later a new canal was created in it’s place called the Alligator-Pungo canal and from that a lateral canal led to Lake Mattamuskeet. This lateral canal was also named the Fairfield Canal. It’s believed that maybe this portion was only a re-dredging of the earlier Fairfield canal.

Published in the Clarksville, Tn. Leaf-Chronicle Weekly dated January 13, 1875 is a letter to the editor from Marshall Jr. titled “THE GREAT CENTRAL WATER LINE, WHAT IT CAN DO FOR THE SOUTH AND WEST, The feasibility of the Project Demonstrated, An account of the Great Inland Water Line of the Atlantic Coast, Letter from Marshall Parks, Esq., President of the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal Company,“

“Norfolk, Va. My attention has been called to the article in your valuable journal respecting the Central Water Line {the Central Water Line was an informal name given for the building of the James River and Katawha Canal between the western counties of Virginia and the coast with the ultimate goal of connecting Hampton Roads, Va. with the Ohio River, but was only partially built. This canal project began in 1785 with the encouragement of George Washington under it’s original name the James River Company. It was an expensive project which failed several times financially and was frequently damaged by floods including a devastating one in 1877. Ultimately its towpath became the roadbed right of way for the Richmond and Allegheny Railroad (R&A). The R&A later became part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway in the 1890s, which developed much of the former canal route into an important line for West Virginia bituminous coal headed eastbound for the Peninsula Extension to reach the Hampton Roads coal piers at Newport News.}, and especially to the very flattering manner in which you have complimented my feeble efforts in opening up a portion of the inland route {canals Marshall Jr. was involved in are an original founding part of what is today referred to as the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), a now fully completed 3,000-mile inland waterway along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of the United States, running from Massachusetts southward along the Atlantic Seaboard and around the southern tip of Florida, then following the Gulf Coast to Brownsville, Texas. This includes sections of the waterway that consist of natural inlets, saltwater rivers, bays, and sounds, while others are artificial canals. It provides a navigable route along its length without the hazards of travel on the open sea} along the Atlantic coast. While the latter {Marshall Jr’s projects} is of great public utility, it does not confer a tithe {a tenth percentage, or 10%, term was originally used as a proportionate measure of one’s income devoted to one’s church to pay for upkeep and the clergy} of the important benefits that would accrue to the country from the Central Water Line proposed to be opened from the Ohio to the Atlantic.”

“From New York, southward, we have the Great Atlantic {Ocean} open at all times for navigation. In addition, we have also an inland water line, made by uniting the several rivers which lie in the proper course, by means of short canals from one natural water-way to the other. By this means a steamer of 500 tons or less can go from New York to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Norfolk to Beaufort N. C., without encountering the ocean navigation; and if Congress will lend its aid to efforts now being made, the same, vessels may go to the St. John’s river in Florida. In fact, we have now, with a slight interruption, a continuous inland channel. The important fact is not generally known. Yesterday a small U. S. schooner, engaged on the coast survey arrived at this port {Norfolk, Va.} from New York having come by the outside route. The officer in charge stated the perils he had encountered by reasons of the rough weather on the coast. He was asked why he did not come by the inland route and was quite surprised when he was informed that he had exposed himself to the dangers of the ocean unnecessarily, as his vessel could have come by the canal route from New York. He had learned there was a canal to North Carolina, and availed himself of the safe transit by the Albemarle & Chesapeake Canal. He saw here for the first time a chart of the route and learned that vessels of four times the tonnage of his can and do navigate that route.”

“Only a few weeks ago {a man} in a paper boat came from Canada to New York via the Erie canal to this port, and had continued his journey thence to the St. John’s river, Florida, and thence to Cuba, in his little bark alone.” Marshall Jr. then goes on to relay more specific details of the inland route down the Atlantic coast from New York to the St. John’s river in Florida.

His letter then continues “Steamboats of less than 500 tons may take this route, provided they are not wider than 24 feet, and do not draw more than seven feet of water.”

“I have been thus particular in describing the route, because I wanted to show what great benefits have been secured by the construction of only three short canals, having an aggregate length of only seventy miles!”

“Why not the Great West avail itself of the many natural water ways which lie in the way of the great line of commerce and reach the East by improving the natural rivers by short canals? Is there anything in the way of accomplishing so desirable an object, except the cost, which is paltry compared with the great benefit it would bestow on the whole country?”

This concludes “Birth of Virginia Beach Part 9” the next installment, Part 10, will be published in May, 2024.

Thank you for reading our newsletter, Making Tracks, and for your interest in the development of the historical Model Railroad Museum to be established here in Hampton Roads in the near future. Please consider a donation or sponsorship of this future attraction to help us acquire a proper location.

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