The Virginia Museum of Transportation began its life in 1963 as the Roanoke Transportation Museum located in Wasena Park in Roanoke, Virginia. The museum at that time was housed in an old Norfolk & Western Railway freight depot on the banks of the Roanoke River. The earliest components of the museum’s collection included a United States Army Jupiter rocket and the famous N&W J Class Locomotive #611, donated by Norfolk & Western Railway to the city of Roanoke where many of its engines were constructed. The museum expanded its collection to include other pieces of rail equipment such as a former DC Transit PCC streetcar, and a number of horse-drawn vehicles including a hearse, a covered wagon, and a Studebaker wagon.
In November 1985, a flood nearly destroyed the museum, and much of its collection. It forced the shutdown of the facility and the refurbishment of #611. In April 1986, the museum re-opened in the Norfolk and Western Railway Freight Station in downtown Roanoke as the Virginia Museum of Transportation. The museum has earned that title, being recognized by the General Assembly of Virginia as the Commonwealth’s official transportation museum.
The locomotives Norfolk & Western 611 and Norfolk & Western 1218 were originally property of the city of Roanoke due to the museum’s original charter. On the April 2, 2012, VMT’s 50 Birthday, the city officially gifted the locomotive titles to the museum.
The Norfolk and Western Railway Freight Station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. The station consists of two clearly identifiable sections, both of which were completed in 1918. They are the two-story, fifty-bay-long, freight station proper which was built parallel to the railroad tracks and now is oriented south, and the one-story-with-basement brick annex that formerly housed the offices of the Shenandoah and Radford divisions of the Norfolk and Western. The building closed for railroad freight business in 1964.