Science Museum of Virginia: Richmond, Virginia

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Have you ever wondered about the world of science?  A great place to experience it is at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond.  There is so much at this museum from hands on exhibits to exploring the universe to just having fun while learning.  The Science Museum of Virginia has something for everyone.  It is a place that will truly enlighten all five of your senses.

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Now some of you are saying, “This is amazing.  I have never heard of the Science Museum of Virginia before.  It does sound like a great place.  However, there are science museums everywhere, and all of them enlighten the senses.  Besides, I am more into railroads and not science.  Therefore, it makes absolutely no sense to visit this place.”

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What is so special about the Science Museum of Virginia?  It is a museum about science.  It is an interactive museum.  It has many great exhibits about science.  What is so special about this museum?

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The Science Museum of Virginia focuses on science just like any other science museum.  However, this place was not always the Science Museum of Virginia.  Before it was the Science Museum of Virginia, it was… the Broad Street Station.  What makes this museum special is that it is housed in what was once a train station.

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When you arrive here, you will first notice its grand train station like appearance.  You park your car and then walk to the entrance.  You get a great glimpse and feel of a grand train station like those in major cities like Washington D.C., New York City, New York and Chicago, Illinois.  You enter the lobby area and look up at the grand domed ceiling, and you get the feeling of passengers walking through.  You pay your admission, and you make your way through the exhibits.  You notice something else about this place.

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Although the Science Museum of Virginia is focused on, of course, science, this place has never forgotten its roots… as a train station.

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Through the museum you will see old photos of the station, and there are displays of some of the locomotives that once served this station.  You may even sit on some of the old benches that the train passengers once sat on.  If this is not enough for you, you can go outside.  On the east side you can see the old overhangs and platforms that passengers stood under while awaiting their train.  On the west side, you see more.  You have an old caboose from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and a kitchen car and passenger car from the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad.  If that is not enough, you can the Number 2732 steam locomotive from the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway.  You can also see the old tracks where the trains entered and exited the station.

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What is so special about the Science Museum of Virginia?  What makes it special is that it is a science museum that is rooted in railroad history.  Even if you are not into science, you will appreciate the structure, and although it is no longer a train station, you can appreciate the fact that this magnificent structure has been preserved for many generations to come.  Although the trains do not come here anymore, there are people who still do come here to see the exhibits and the history… and some trains.

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The Science Museum of Virginia is located at 2500 West Broad Street (U.S. Routes 33 and 250) in Richmond, Virginia.  It is just minutes from downtown.  Parking is on site and is free.  The museum is handicap accessible.  Paid admission is required to enter the museum.  You can get information on admission, directions and the exhibits at https://www.smv.org.

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Do you still think that it makes no sense to visit the Science Museum of Virginia?  It makes plenty of sense.  You get to see a great science museum, and you get your railroad history too.

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The Whippany Railway Museum, Whippany, New Jersey

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New York City, New York is the largest metropolis in the United States of America.  Before air travel, it was the Gateway to North America, and it still somewhat has that status today although people can fly to most cities in the country.  During the American Revolutionary War, General George Washington fought off the British in defense of the city.  Famous places in the region include the famous Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, Coney Island, Central Park, the Empire State Building and the Freedom Tower which was built on the site of the World Trade Center Towers that were destroyed on September 11, 2001 with the loss of many lives.  A memorial was built to remember the people and the heroes on that tragic day.  With all these sites in the city, you cannot forget the sites in the suburbs.  In Morristown, you have George Washington’s Headquarters, and you also have Historic Speedwell where the electronic telegraph machine was designed by a man named Samuel Morse.  While in New Jersey, there is another site that you cannot overlook.

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Welcome to the Whippany Railway Museum in Whippany, New Jersey.  Here you will find old rolling stock to include locomotives, passenger cars and cabooses.  The first thing you see when you arrive at the museum is the old Whippany passenger depot which remains on its original site.  (It is not open to the public.)  Across the tracks is the old freight depot that was originally used by the Morris County Central Railroad.  (It was originally located next to the passenger depot, but it was moved across the tracks to spare it from being demolished.)  Inside the old freight depot is where you will find a model train display and walls filled with displays of trains, photos and paintings showing the history of the railroads that passed through Whippany.

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There is so much to see at the Whippany Railway Museum, but this is just part of what is here at the museum.

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During the season the museum also has train rides.  On select weekends you can ride the train along what is known to local railroad historians as the old ‘Whippanong Trail’.  The rides are part of the museum’s mission to preserve the history of the railroad not only in the northern New Jersey region but also across the nation for many generations to come.

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The Whippany Railway Museum is located at 1 Railroad Plaza in Whippany, New Jersey at the intersection of New Jersey Routes 10 and 511.  It is conveniently located off New Jersey Route 24, Interstates 78, 80 and 287 and U.S. Routes 46 and 202.  (You can say that getting here is very easy.)  Admission to the museum is $2.00 for adults and $1.00 for children under twelve.  (Please note that they only take cash at the museum for museum entry, gift shop purchases and for excursions, but credit cards can be used to purchase tickets for the railroad excursions through the website only.)  Railroad trips cost extra and can vary on the trip.  You can get more information and read into the history of the museum to include the history of the Morris County Central Railroad and to purchase train tickets at http://www.whippanyrailwaymuseum.net.

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So, start spreading the news.  You are leaving today.  You are going to be a part of it, New York, New York, and while there, make a trip to Whippany and the Whippany Railway Museum.

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The Harper’s Ferry Toy Train Museum and Joy Line Railroad, Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

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Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia is located at the easternmost part of the state.  It is a place where the Shenandoah River flows into the Potomac River, and it was the first place where the railroad crossed a river in the United States of America.  It is enriched with history as an industrial town and during the American Civil War.  It is often thought of as an historic town, but it is also an outdoor adventure paradise as well with making hiking trails to two overlooks looking down onto the town and river adventures on both the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.  Today, Harper’s Ferry is a suburb of Washington D.C., and the old town is a National Registered Historic District that is operated by the National Park Service.  The old town is normally the most famous part of Harper’s Ferry, but just a short drive away is a little hidden treasure.

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Welcome to the Harper’s Ferry Toy Train Museum and Joy Line Railroad.  As you enter, you can see the miniature train waiting at the depot.  You buy the ticket and board the train.  You leave the depot and pass by the yard.  You cross a trestle and pass through the tunnel and then return to the depot.

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If you think that this is it, you are very mistaken.

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From here you walk. or drive to the top of the hill.  Here you will see a collection of trains.  All kinds of train memorabilia are here, and you can see an old Lionel Train Display.

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The Harper’s Ferry Toy Train Museum and Joy Line Railroad is a true treasure, and it is fun for every rail fan whether young or old.  The best thing about visiting here is that it will not break your bank.  The museum and railroad are just $4.00 each.  Parking is on site at both the railroad and museum.  It is located at 933 Bakerton Road about one mile from U.S. 340.  It is open every Saturday and Sunday from 10:00am to 4:00pm from April to October.  Time here is time well spent.

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The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, Cumberland, Maryland

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The city of Cumberland, Maryland is a city located in the panhandle region of the state.  It is a city rich in history dating back to the French and Indian Wars and a major crossroads city being served by the National Road, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and the railroad.  The National Road is no longer the main road to the west.  The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal which was originally supposed to go to the Ohio River near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was never completed and had terminated in Cumberland.  Today, much of the canal is in ruins with certain parts restored to its original look, and it is its now owned and run by the National Park Service.  As for the railroad, the city of Cumberland remains a major railroad hub with CSX having a yard and its shops in the city.  In the early days, it was a hub for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Western Maryland Railway.  The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and parts of the Western Maryland Railway was absorbed by CSX, and much of the trackage remains in the city.  The Western Maryland Railway is now just a memory in Cumberland… or is it?

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Welcome to the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad in Cumberland, Maryland.  The train departs from the original three-story Western Maryland Railway depot in downtown Cumberland.  You can buy your tickets at the original depot ticket office unless you purchase them online or by phone.  You board the train at the original Western Maryland Railway platform except for a ramp to allow those with wheelchairs and persons with disabilities to board.  You step into passenger cars used by the Western Maryland Railway.  The train is pulled by a Western Maryland Railway locomotive along a route used by the Western Maryland Railway.  As you ride along, you will see scenery that is like what was seen by the passengers of the Western Maryland Railroad.  You enjoy the views of the Western Maryland countryside as the train makes the climb up a grade and rolls around Helmstetter’s Horseshoe Curve.  What is a ride on a Western Maryland Railway train on a Western Maryland Railroad line without passing through a Western Maryland Railway tunnel?  It is everything about the Western Maryland Railway until… you the train goes on the route of the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad.  (The original Western Maryland line is now a rail trail.)   You continue the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad route until you reach your destination of the town of Frostburg.  Here, you will debark the train.

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Now some of you are saying, “Yeah!  I know.  You get off the train.  Your walk around Frostburg.  You get back on the train and go back to Cumberland.  It is the same old same old thing.  This is nothing new.”

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Yes, you do walk around Frostburg, and maybe you can visit a few places in Frostburg, but a stopover here has a few special things.

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You will see the old Frostburg depot which now houses a gift shop and a waiting area that has an old luggage cart and a model train that runs around the top of the room plus a painting of Number 734.  There are a few restaurants near the depot, and there is a small carriage museum that you can visit.  You can also see an old railroad tunnel that was used by the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad which went under the town.  (Access into the tunnel in prohibited.)  You can also do the Arts Walk and take a walk at the Alleghany Portage Trail that uses the old Western Maryland Railway roadbed.

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Now some of you are saying, “But that is nothing really special.  That is just the typical stuff.”

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That is true, but the best part of the stopover is to see the turntable.  In case you are wondering, this is not a turntable that is just there rusting and overgrown with weeds.  It is a working turntable.  The best part about this working turntable is to watch it work.  Originally used to turn the old steam locomotives, it is used to turn the locomotive to face the proper direction for the trip back to Cumberland instead of having the locomotive run backwards for the long journey.

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The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad uses some much authenticity on its excursions.  They are currently using vintage Western Maryland diesel locomotives, but there are plans to enhance the authentic ride with the operation the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Number 1309.  Number 1309 was on display was on display at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, but with was purchased by the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad to pull the excursion trains.  That will be a great site to see.

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The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad is in downtown Cumberland, Maryland at 13 Canal Street.  It is just minutes from Interstate 68 and U.S. Routes 40 and 220.  Parking is paid parking across the street from the depot.  You can get information about the excursions and purchase tickets at https://wmsr.com/.

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What is your favorite thing about Western Maryland?  You might say the scenery.  One you ride the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, that may be your favorite thing.

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The Virginia Holocaust Museum, Richmond, Virginia

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Throughout history there has been mad tyrannical leaders who have been determined to wipe out human life.  Some have succeeded in wiping out nations of people.  The most attacked group of people in all of history has been the Jewish people.  Throughout the centuries, tyrants devoted their lives to ending the Jewish race.  Many will say that one of the worst moments in history was when a German leader named Adolph Hitler made a quest to wipe out the Jewish people from the face of the earth.  Although he was able to wipe out millions of the Jewish people in Europe during World War II, his quest ended in failure as the Jewish people survived and are still among us today.  The Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond, Virginia takes you what was a horrific time.  As you walk through the museum, it gives you a glimpse of what many innocent Jewish people felt as they were severely tortured with some put to death.  The Virginia Holocaust Museum truly tells the stories of a life of torture.

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Now some of you are saying, “I must say that the Holocaust was a horrible time if not the most horrible time in history.  How can a mad man simply kill innocent people just because he did not like them?  I am glad that he failed to wipe them all out.  As for the museum, well, I am happy to see that it was erected to remember these horrific acts.  However, this is not a railroad museum.  Therefore, I will wipe this museum from my list of places to see.”

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This is true.  The Virginia Holocaust Museum is not a railroad museum, but it is a museum that you should visit.

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In the United States of America, there is a great love for the railroad.  The railroad brought people from the ports of the American cities to the interior in this land.  Many towns throughout the country were built around the railroad.  To many Americans even today, the railroad is a great site to see.

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If you were a Jewish person living in a Nazi occupied country in Europe in the 1930’s and 1940’s, the railroad… meant something that you wish you would never see.

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The Nazi soldiers went through the villages rounding up the Jewish people.  They raided the homes of Jewish families and the homes of people they suspected of hiding the Jewish people. Men, women and children were rounded up.  They heard the toot of the whistle.  The trains pulled up.  The boxcars were opens.  The Jewish people were shoved into the boxcars packing them very tight to a point where they could not move.  The trains went to various concentration camps where the Jewish people were tortured and executed.

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When you arrive at the Virginia Holocaust Museum, the first thing you will see is a boxcar next to the museum entrance.  It is a real boxcar that was brought to the museum from Germany.  This German ‘goods wagon’ was built in the 1920’s to transport goods across Germany, and it was used during World War II for the transport of the people to the concentration camps.  This is just the beginning.  When you enter the museum and walk into the theater, you will see a model of a train in a concentration camp.  The floor of the museum is depiction of a railroad track giving you a feel of being in a boxcar on a train while heading to a concentration camp.  Items on display includes rails used on the rail lines used to transport people to the camps.  Once you pass through the camp, you end up in the Palace of Justice where you see a display of the trail of the Nazis.  You then enter a memorial shrine remembering those who were brutally murdered.

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Please be advised that the Virginia Holocaust Museum goes through great lengths to display the experience of a Nazi concentration camp.  You will find many of the displays very disturbing.

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The Virginia Holocaust Museum is located at 2000 Cary Street in Richmond, Virginia.  It is a short drive from Interstates 64 and 95, and a short drive from downtown.  Admission is free.  (They gladly accept donations to keep the museum running for many generations to come.)  Parking is available across the street from the museum.  (Bus and recreational vehicle parking is available on nearby Dock Street.)  The museum is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm from Monday to Friday and 11:00 am to 5:00 pm on Saturday and Sunday.  You can go to https://www.vaholocaust.org/ to learn more about the museum and to check up on upcoming events.

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The National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Emmitsburg, Maryland

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Who is Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton?  She was the first person born in what would become the United States of America to become a canonized saint by the Roman Catholic Church.  Born on August 28, 1774 in New York City, she spent her life nursing the sick.  She became a Catholic and began a school for young girls.  She later moved to the town of Emmitsburg, Maryland where she committed herself to ministry and established a school for girls.  She died in Emmitsburg on January 4, 1821 at the age of 46.  Her short life has been outdone by her long legacy.  Her remains in a crypt at the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg.  Today, you can visit this shrine and get a great glimpse of the life of this great woman.

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Now some of you are saying, “Wow.  This is one incredible woman who gave so much of her life to help the sick and unfortunate.  She is truly one that needs to be honored.  However, there is one very big problem.  It is mentioned that she died in 1821.  This means that she had never seen a train.  Plus, there is no railroad line in Emmitsburg or at the shrine.  Therefore, you will not see me paying any homage to this place.”

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You have a point there.  Since she passed away in 1821, she was not alive in 1828 when the first train ran in Baltimore in 1828.  As for the shrine, it has a little railroad history.

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When you visit the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, you will see the Basilica.  The basement has a small museum detailing the life of Elizabeth Ann Seton.  You can enter the Basilica itself and see the pews and stained-glass windows.  There are statues and paintings.  You can see the pulpit where the priest delivers the sermon.  There is also the crypt where her remains are entombed.  When you go outside and see the school extending to the left from the basilica.  (The school is not open to the public.)  You can walk over to the Stone House where Elizabeth Ann Seton lived.  Next to the Stone House is the garden.  It has a statue of her with two girls.  As you exit the garden, you will see three bells.  Two of the bells are school bells.  The one bell is from the ‘Dinky’.

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Now you are saying, “Wow.  It is the bell from the ‘Dinky’.  What in the world is the ‘Dinky’?”

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The ‘Dinky’ was a steam locomotive on the Emmitsburg Railroad.  It was a short line railroad that ran from Emmitsburg to a junction with the Western Maryland Railway in the town of Rocky Ridge.  (That line is now owned by the Maryland Midland Railroad.)  The Emmitsburg Railroad brought students to and from the school as well as freight to and from the town of Emmitsburg.  Although many of the town residents opposed the railroad, it was well welcomed by the school enabling students from the surrounding towns to attend the school.  The railroad began service in November of 1875, but service ceased in May of 1940.  Today, very little of the old track bed remains.  The Dinky was scrapped, but the bell was saved, and it is on display in the garden at the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.

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The National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton is a place that celebrates the life of Elizabeth Ann Seton.  A visit to this shrine takes you deeper into her life and her accomplishments.  Be advised that although this is a Catholic site, you do not have to be a religious person to appreciate this place.  They welcome all visitors.  It is free to visit, but they gladly accept donations.  There is a cost for guided tours.  It is open daily.  The museum, gift shop and basilica on Monday through Saturday from 10:00am to 6:00pm and on Sunday from 12:00pm to 6:00pm.  The grounds, including the garden where the Dinky Bell is located, are open from sunrise to sunset.  Parking is available on site, and most of the grounds are handicap accessible.  (The Stone House and Cemetery may not be accessible.)  It is located at 339 South Seton Avenue in Emmitsburg, Maryland and is easily accessible from U.S. Route 15 and Maryland Route 140.  You can get more information about the shrine and about events and tours at https://setonshrine.org.

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So, if you are driving around northern Maryland, and you see signs for the Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine, do not think of it as a place that just memorializes a great woman but also memorializes a locomotive that was part of the Emmitsburg Railroad.

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The New River Gorge in West Virginia

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The United States of America is a country that has many natural wonders.  The state of West Virginia is a state that is mostly mountainous with very few cities.  It has the largest wilderness area in the eastern part of the nation, and it is the home to the New River Gorge.  At the bottom of this gorge is, of course, the New River which begins in Virginia and flows through West Virginia.  It is where you will find some of the best whitewater rafting in the country.  The New River Gorge is a very big gorge that was impossible to cross.  The New River Gorge Bridge was an engineering marvel that allowed automobiles to go across without having to drive down and back up.  If you are ever in West Virginia, the New River Gorge and the New River Gorge Bridge are two places that you must see.

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Now some of you are saying, “Wow!  I have seen many photos of the New River Gorge and I still have the West Virginia quarter that has the bridge on it.  The New River Gorge would be great to see, but it is just a natural wonder.  It has nothing to do with railroads.  Therefore, I am not going to gorge myself about this place.”

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The New River Gorge is a National Park run by the National Park Service.  U.S. Route 19 runs across the New River Gorge Bridge.  On the north side of the bridge is one of the Visitor Centers for the park, and it is here where you can get an overlook of the bridge.

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From this point, you look down into the gorge.  Did you know that you can go into the gorge… and look up?  You begin your descent down into the gorge winding your way down.  You go under the bridge to look up to see the massive structure.  You get to the bottom, and the first thing you come to is… a railroad crossing.  The tracks are original to the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, but CSX continues to run on the tracks today.  You cross the New River, and you see a railroad line on the other side.  The railroad has been a major part of the New River Gorge and continues to follow the New River on the south side of the gorge towards the town of Hinton with the tracks coming together on the east side south of Caperton) and northward to Charleston (with the tracks coming together at Hawks Nest State Park).  After you cross the river, you go under the tracks, and you head back up to the top of the rim.

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The New River Gorge is a spectacular site to see, and it is more spectacular to see when a train is passing through the gorge.

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The New River Gorge is a National Park located in southern West Virginia.  You can go inside the Visitor Center and see how the railroad was a big part of the lumber industry in the gorge as well as the spawning of certain towns.  There is no fee to the visitor center or to drive into the gorge but be advised that the roads are very windy and may not be suitable for larger vehicles particularly buses and recreational vehicles.

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The next time you see photos of the New River Gorge, think of it as a natural wonder, and a place where you can go to the bottom… and watch trains go by.

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