Herndon, before the railroad arrived in the 1850s, was a dirt crossroad and farm land. Within 10 years a new post office had been built beside the railroad tracks and trains steamed daily between Leesburg and Alexandria.
But the post office had no name. At a meeting in 1858 someone suggested Herndon, for William Lewis Herndon, captain of the mail steamer Central America, which sank in a storm off Cape Hatteras in 1857 with 584 passengers and crew and $2 million in gold. The name was approved. A model of the ship is in the Herndon Historical Society office in the old railroad depot.
Although closed by the Civil War, the railroad flourished afterward and was extended to Bluemont, which became an Appalachian resort.
In 1910, when this photo was taken, steam engines were being replaced by electric trains of the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad. The large frame building was Herndon's first commercial structure, the farm implement store of Hutchison and Mitchell. The building beside it was Taylor's Jewelry Store.
The W&OD went out of business in 1968, its right of way bought for power lines. The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority then bought the 100-foot-wide right of way and began paving a 45-mile bike trail between Alexandria and Purcellville. The path, visible in the current photo, now extends 35 miles into Leesburg.