The burly, red-faced Irish-looking man wearing the big Southern Railway System belt buckle was standing, as usual, yesterday in front of the railroad's headquarters building on 15th Street as though nothing had happened. Well, maybe it hasn't happened yet, but too soon it will.

After 97 years of headquarters operations in the nation's capital, dating back to the predecessor Richmond & Danville Railroad's setting up of headquarters here in 1886, the Southern is skipping town, as reported in a news article in yesterday's paper. Operations of the new Norfolk Southern will be divided among Norfolk, Roanoke and Atlanta. Let's think back . . .

There were many years when Washingtonians, stung by criticism that this city was outside the mainstream of the national economic system, could point to the Southern's headquarters. It was for many years the largest corporation in town.

When the far-flung Southern was formed in 1894 by the merger of several smaller lines, it built the headquarters pictured above, at right in middle distance, on the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue NW just east of the present District Building. With its Victorian tower, it was one of the city's grandest buildings.

Southern moved to 15th and K Streets in 1928. A parking lot now occupies its former headquarters site.