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The Benjamin Banneker Historic Park and Museum, Catonsville, Maryland

The Cabin of Benjamin Banneker

Who is Benjamin Banneker?  He is not someone you hear about in history classes.  He was a special kind of man.  Born on November 9, 1731, he became an accomplished mathematician,  an astronomer who spent some of his evenings looking up at the stars, and a publisher of six almanacs.  Although he was never a slave, he did have to deal with rejection like many African Americans dealt with in his day which made him an abolitionist.  This did not stop the man’s brilliance.  He was a surveyor who worked with Charles L’Enfant.  Who is Charles L’Enfant?  He is the man who laid out what became the District of Columbia.  Benjamin Banneker assisted with L’Enfant to lay out the southwestern border of the District.  (This border is now completely in Virginia and is the border between Arlington and Fairfax County.)  Benjamin Banneker has been credited by some historians as an inventor, but he was never an inventor but a man with an incredible mind.  He died in 1806.  The Benjamin Banneker Historic Park and Museum in Catonsville, Maryland commemorates and celebrates the life of a man who some say could be one of the most brilliant minds in the history of the United States of America.

Benjamin Banneker’s Garden

Some of you are saying, “This has got to be one amazing man.  It is sad that he was not talked about in schools.  We must be thankful for the people who have preserved his memory.  There is a very big problem.  As mentioned, he died in 1806.  The railroad began in 1828.  This means that he had nothing to do with the railroad.  Therefore, I will have nothing to do with the Benjamin Banneker Historic Park and Museum.”

A Sundial

You have a point.  Benjamin Banneker did die before the railroad began.  Therefore, Benjamin Banneker had nothing to do with the railroad.  Why should you visit the Benjamin Banneker Historic Park and Museum?

The Benjamin Banneker Historic Park and Museum consists of, of course, the museum that tells the story of Benjamin Banneker and his brilliance.  It also consists of the Trueth / Bannaky House, a home that was built on the property after Banneker’s death.  You have the Colonial Farmstead that consists of a cabin of which Benjamin Banneker would have lived in and a small garden.  Then you have the hiking trails.

Some of you are saying, “This is very nice, but this has absolutely nothing to do with the railroad.”

As mentioned, there are hiking trails in the park.  You have the Yellow Trail, the White Trail, the Green Trail, The Red Trail, the Blue Trail, and the Trolley 9 Trail.

The Trolley 9 Trail in Ellicott City

Some of you are saying, “What?  What in the world is the Trolley 9 Trail?”

The Trolley 9 Trail Passing Through a Rock Cut

This is the reason why you should visit the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum.  The Trolley 9 Trail is a rail trail that runs through the park that begins in nearby Ellicott City and ends in a neighborhood.  Why is it called the Trolley 9 Trail?  The answer is deep.

Ruins of the Trolley Bridge over the Patapsco River

Benjamin Banneker’s home was in proximity with Ellicott City, originally called Ellicott Mills.  The name comes from being a town of mills with the Patapsco River passing on the northeast side of the town.  Mills, of course, needs workers.  Although the railroad came to Ellicott Mills, how was his workers going to get to work?

Old Houses in the Town of Oella

In March of 1861, the Baltimore, Catonsville, and Ellicott Mills Railway Company was born.  It was able to transport workers from their homes in Catonsville and the town of Oella to the mills and back home.  What began with horse-drawn trolleys was later electrified.

The Trolley 9 Trail

Today, you can walk along the Trolley 9 Trail and think about how the workers rode to in from their jobs.  You can stop in at the Benjamin Banneker Historic Park.  Although the Trolley 9 Trail is paved and it is for wheelchairs, the access from Ellicott City is not nor are the trails in the park wheelchair friendly.  The trail has a slight incline from Ellicott City.  While at the Ellicott City end, you can see the remnants of the bridge that crossed the Patapsco River.  (The bridge was burned by a discarded cigarette and was never rebuilt.)

A Creek Crossed by the Trolley 9 Trail

Benjamin Banneker had no connection to the railroad, but what was once his land does.  You will learn about a brilliant man, and you can take in the scenery along the Trolley 9 Trail.

The Benjamin Banneker Historic Park and Museum is owned and operated by Baltimore County Parks.  It is located at 300 Oella Avenue in Catonsville, Maryland just off Maryland Route 144 and just east of Ellicott City.  The museum hours are 10:00am to 4:00pm Tuesday to Saturday.  The park is open from sunrise to sunset.  Admission is free, and parking is on site.  The Trolley 9 Trail open sunrise to sunset.  You can get more information and directions to the museum and park at https://friendsofbenjaminbanneker.com/.

Get to know Benjamin Banneker.  Get to know a great minded man.  Meet a man who helped lay out a section of what is now Washington D.C.  Visit the site of his farm where at one time ‘a train ran through it’.

Old Train Station, Amherst, Virginia

Old Train Station, Amherst, Virginia

In the heyday of passenger railroading, trains made many stops across the country including small towns.  Many of these small towns had train depots that had a ticket agent who also was the town postmaster.  As passenger service declined, many small towns were no longer served by passenger trains.  The small-town train station was no longer used.  What happened to many of these stations?  Some were demolished.  Why?  As stations over time fall into disrepair, they eventually collapse with debris falling onto the tracks which is a real hazard for trains on active lines.  Then there are those that are spare from demolition.  Some are just left empty.  Some became offices for the railroad company that owns the rail line.  Some have been made into museums.  Then there are those that have been converted into visitor centers.  One of them is the old train station in Amherst, Virginia.

Old Train Signal at the Old Train Station in Amherst, Virginia

Some of you are saying, “I have seen this story many times before.  It is the same old story.  They took an old train station, spared it, and made it a visitor center.  This place is no different than any other train station that was made into a visitor center.  Therefore, I will not be making any visit to this place.”

Looking at the Old Ticket Window

That is true about many of the old train stations across the country, and the old train station in Amherst, Virginia has a similar story, but this train station has more to the story.

What Would Have Been a Train Passenger’s View of the Station

The current structure was built in 1913 by the Southern Railway to replace the original depot (that was demolished) that was built by the Orange and Alexandria Railroad who originally built the rail line.  This station had a ticket office like any other station, but it is one of the few surviving stations with separate waiting rooms for whites and blacks during the days of segregation.  In 1920’s, the south waiting room was made into the freight room during a renovation of the station.  (The original freight house was south of here.)  Passenger service ended in the 1960’s, and freight service ended in the 1970’s leaving this train station abandoned just like those other old train stations.  The station was then in the ownership of the Mays Farmers’ Service Company who, in 1995, donated the depot to the Amherst County Chamber of Commerce, and it was moved half a mile from its original location to where it sits today.

Looking Inside the Display

Today, you can visit this old train station.  It sits on a bluff overlooking the rail line that once served the old train station, and you can sit at a table and, if you are fortunate enough, and watch a passing train.  You can also see and old signal, and the colors do change from red to green to yellow.  When you go inside, you will not see the ticket office or waiting room.  You will see brochures for local sites, and, what makes this place different, it houses a small museum with artifacts from the Southern Railway to include a few dishes used on the trains, a car step, a model of a Southern Railway train, and a conductors uniform.  There is even a small gift shop.

Items on Display

The Old Amherst Train Station is located at 328 Richmond Highway (U.S. Route 60) just east of U.S. Route 29.  It is open from 9:00am to 5:00pm from Wednesday to Saturday and 1:00pm to 5:00pm on Sunday.  (It is closed on Monday and Tuesday.)  When you visit, you will see that it is not just an old train station turned visitor center, but a little bit more. You can learn more at http://visitamherstcounty.org/destination/map/visitor-center/.

Items on Display

Pine Grove Furnace State Park, Gardners, Pennsylvania

The Pine Grove Furnace. Photo is courtesy of the Pine Grove State Park

In the early years of the United States of America, stone furnaces were built for the smelting of metal to form it into different shapes.  The stone furnaces were built near the sources of key ingredients like iron ore, limestone, and charcoal which was made from trees in hardwood forests.  One of these furnaces was Pine Grove Furnace in the southern central region of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania.  The Pine Grove Furnace was used to make iron, and the site was a bustling place.  Iron ore was brought to the furnace where it was melted and formed, and then it was transported to different locations.  Through the years, new technologies and safer furnaces were built making furnaces like these obsolete.  In 1895, the fires in the Pine Grove Furnace stopped burning.  The furnace was abandoned, and it was left to ruin and to be reclaimed by nature through the years.  The Pine Grove Furnace was gone, but it was not forgotten as it was made into a state park.  Today, you can see the old furnace in its original location.  You can also see the Ironmaster’s Mansion where the ironmaster had his residence, the Paymaster’s Cabin, the old stable which now houses the park general store, the old mill which now houses the Appalachian Trail Museum, and you can see Fuller Lake which is where the iron ore was mined from numerous ore pits and was filled naturally with water when the mining of the pits ended.  Unlike the days of operation, Pine Grove State Park is a tranquil place where the sounds of loud clanging and pounding have been taken over by peace and tranquility.  Pine Grove Furnace State Park is a place that history and nature unite in great harmony.

What Remains of the Pine Grove Furnace

Some of you are saying, “This is nice.  The old furnace was preserved and made into a park.  It would be great to walk around.  However, there is one big problem.  There are no railroads here, there are no railroads anywhere near here, and this place has absolutely nothing to do with the railroad.  Therefore, I will not be ironing out any plans to visit this place.”

The Ironmaster’s Mansion

You have a point.  The park has no railroads.  You are wrong about the fact that this place has nothing to do with the railroad.

Looking into the Oven of the Pine Grove Furnace

When operations began in 1764, there was no railroad.  The iron was transported by the old horse and buggy system.  When the railroad began making its way across North America, those rails made their way to the Pine Grove Furnace, and the railroad replaced the horse and buggy to transport the iron.  The grassy area next to the furnace was a small rail yard where cars were loaded.  The South Mountain Railroad was constructed from 1868 to 1869.  In 1870 the railroad connected the furnace with the Cumberland Valley Railroad at a junction east of Carlisle.  The South Mountain Railroad was combined with other local railroads to become the Hunters Run and Slate Belt Railroad.  The Hunters Run and Slate Belt Railroad was late merged into another railroad.  In 1907 after the brickyard was shutdown, sections of railroad were removed from what is now the state park, but a rail line was still connected to Carlisle, and a tourist line brought tourists to the park.  This continued into the 1950’s when rail service to what would become Pine Grove State Park came to an end.

A Road on the Old Railroad Bed

Today, you can hike on some of the trails that were once the railroad bed of the railroad that served the furnace, and a few of the roads were built on the old railroad beds.  If you are fortunate, you may find an old railroad tie or find a rail spike used to hold the rails on the ties.  There is a road called ‘Old Railroad Bed Road’ which runs along the southeast side of the park on the south side of Laurel Lake which was built along the original railroad bed.  The road is drivable, but it is a narrow dead-end road which may be difficult for large vehicles (large sport utility vehicles and buses) to turn around.  While on this road, you will pass by a spring.  It is said that locomotives may had made a stop here to take on water.

The Spring That May Have Been Used to Put Water in the Locomotives

Pine Grove State Park is a Pennsylvania State Park with historical ruins of the furnace and other structures.  It is near the halfway point of the Appalachian Trail which passes through the park, and it is the home of the Appalachian Trail Museum.  Although it is in the confines of the state park, it is owned at operated by the Appalachian Trail Museum Society, an all-volunteer organization.  The museum is open between April and October from 9:00am to 4:00pm from Thursday to Sunday.  Admission is free, but they gladly accept donations to help keep the museum operational for many years to come.  You can learn more about the museum, the history of the museum and foundation, and their many affiliates at https://www.atmuseum.org/.

The Appalachian Trail Museum

The Ironmaster’s Mansion is also within the confines of the state park.  It has tours and is also open for lodging.  It is owned by the state park, but it is managed by a non-profit organization that also owns the Appalachian Trail Museum which is located at the halfway point on the Appalachian Trail, a trail that runs through the Appalachian Mountain Range between the U.S. state of Maine and the state of Georgia.  The museum is between the Ironmaster’s Mansion and the Visitor Center.

The Appalachian Trail

Along with the museum, the Pine Grove State Park Visitor Center also houses a museum that tells the history of the park.  Along with the museum, furnace ruins, and old structures, there are also picnic tables, hiking trails, camping (tent, RV, and groups), swimming, and boating, and there is also a general store.  The park is open year-round from sunrise to sunset.  You can learn more about the park and make campground reservations and how to reserve the paymaster’s cabin at https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/PineGroveFurnaceStatePark/Pages/default.aspx.

The Visitor Center and Museum

If you would like a detail history of the railroad history of Pine Grove Furnace State Park, you can purchase the book Railroads to Pine Grove Furnace by Randy Watts from the park gift shop.

Laurel Lake

The next time you hear about Pine Grove Furnace State Park, do not think about a place of an old furnace or a simple park.  Think of it as a tranquil place that was once connected to the mighty sounds of the railroad.

Old Railroad Bed Road

Train Station Museum, Woodsboro, Maryland

Old Train Station, Home of the Woodsboro Historical Society, Woodsboro, Maryland

Have you ever heard of the small town of Woodsboro, Maryland?  You have not heard of this famous Maryland town known as Woodsboro?  Well, most people have never heard of this town to probably include many who live in the region.  The town is named after Joseph Wood, a man born in Gloucester, England to whom the land grant was given.  The town was laid out in 1786 as Woodsberry.  The name changed a few times before it finally became Woodsboro.

Old Train Station and Railroad Line

What major events took place here?

Looking North from Maryland Route 550

As far as it is known, no major historic events took place here.  It is the home of two sites on the National Registry of Historic Places.  The one site is the LeGore Bridge, and the other site is the Woods Mill Farm.  For many years, it was also the home of the Rosebud Perfume Company which was founded in this town.  It is still the home of a few rock quarries.  No famous people were born here.  The town is in the midst of a region of famous towns of Frederick, a town of American Civil War battles and homes, the town of Thurmont, the home of Camp David, the United States Presidential retreat, Emmitsburg, the home of Elizabeth Seton, the first American born canonized saint who is also buried in a shrine named for her, and Gettysburg, the home of the great battle that was the turning point of the American Civil War.  Maryland Routes 194 and 550 are the only routes that pass through this town.

Looking South from the train Depot

Some of you are saying, “Well, that is interesting.  Here is this out of the way town that is out of the way with two national historic sites.  Is there anybody who saw any significance to this Maryland town called Woodsboro?”

The Interior of the Train Station

That is a good question.  You will have to say that the Pennsylvania Railroad saw this town as significant.  How?  They built a small railroad station here.  Yes, the small town of Woodsboro, Maryland had regular passenger and freight service that connected Frederick with the rest of the Pennsylvania Railroad in Pennsylvania.

The Ticket Window

Some of you are saying, “I see. I bet that when the Pennsylvania Railroad was taken over by the Penn Central Railroad, the tracks were taken up, and this small train station was demolished.  Now the little town of Woodsboro is on the list of old railroad town that no longer sees the railroad.”

Old U.S. Army Uniform on Display

If you were making a bet on this, you would lose.

Instruments from the Woodsboro Band

The Penn Central Railroad did continue freight service on this line until they abandoned it, but railroad service did not cease altogether.  The line itself only goes as far south as Walkersville with the Walkersville Southern Railroad running excursions at the southern end, and the Maryland Midland Railroad uses this line to serve a quarry that is in the town of Woodsboro.  It may not be as busy as it was during the days of the Pennsylvania Railroad, but trains still do pass here.

Three Jugs and a Stove

What about the old train station?

Old Mount Hope Cemetery Sign

The old train station is no longer an active train station.  Today, it is a small museum that tells the history of Woodsboro and displays artifacts not only from the town but from the American Revolutionary War to include an old uniform from a group known as the ‘Sons of America’.  You can also see old photos from the days when the railroad served the old depot and an old store across the street.  You will also see old street maps to include the map of the original tracks at the depot.  It may be a simple small depot, but it carries a whole lot of the history of Woodsboro to include its history as a railroad town.

Another view of the Station Interior

The Train Station Museum in Woodsboro, Maryland is owned and operated by the Woodsboro Historical Society.  The train station is at its original location at the railroad crossing at 6 Woodsboro Creagarstown Road (Maryland Route 550) in Woodsboro, Maryland.  It is open on the second Saturday of each month from 1:00pm to 4:00pm, or you can make an appointment to visit on your own time.  Admission is free, but they really appreciate any donation to keep the museum running for many generations to come.  Parking is on site.  Please note that the museum currently is not wheelchair accessible.  You can get more information about the museum at https://woodsborohistoricalsociety.org/.

Replica Military Uniform from the American Revolutionary War

So, do you think that there is anything significant about the small Maryland town of Woodsboro?  The Pennsylvania Railroad did, and the Maryland Midland Railway does today.  When you walk through the Train Station Museum, you will too.

Standing on the Train Platform Looking South

“The Pennypacker Express”

The Pennypacker Express: Photo courtesy of Montgomery County Parks, Trails and Historic Sites

This is ‘The Pennypacker Express’.  What is it? 

Some of you are saying, “It is probably a passenger train?  Many passenger trains have the name ‘Express’.”

So, you think that ‘The Pennypacker Express’ is a passenger train?  What if you were wrong about what you are thinking?  What if ‘The Pennypacker Express’ was something completely different?

Well, you do not have to answer those questions because ‘The Pennypacker Express’ is a passenger train, but it was not just any passenger train.  It was the personal transportation of Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker.  Who was Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker?  He served as the governor of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania from 1903 to 1907.  ‘The Pennypacker Express’ was how he traveled between the state capital of Harrisburg to his summer home, Pennypacker Mills.  It consisted of a locomotive and two passenger cars.  The rail line was a short walk from his home in Schwenksville across a creek to the Schwenksville depot.

Can you ride the train today?  The answer is no.  The tracks are gone and is now a rail trail.  The original depot burned down.  The last depot of Schwenksville is now a sandwich shop.  What happened to the train itself?  The answer is unknown although there is a claim that the governor’s personal car may be part of a local restaurant.  (The claim is currently under investigation.)

Another thing about ‘The Pennypacker Express’ is that not only did it have to do with Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker, but the Pennypacker family has great roots in the railroad. The next time you are in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, make a visit to Pennypacker Mills.  Walk the trail where the Pennypacker Express once ran.  (It is paved and safe for wheelchairs.)  Both sites are owned and operated by Montgomery County Parks, Trails and Historic Sites.  You can learn more about Pennypacker Mills, Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker and the Pennypacker family at https://www.montcopa.org/928/Pennypacker-Mills.

A Rail Trail that follows the path of ‘The Pennypacker Express’

A Town Called Shenandoah, Virginia

A Shop in Shenandoah, Virginia

You may have heard of Shenandoah National Park, the closest national park to Washington D.C. which mainly straddles atop a mountain ridge.  You may have heard of the Shenandoah Valley, a valley on the west side of the national park.  You may have heard of the Shenandoah River, one of the few rivers in the world that flow northward flowing through the Shenandoah Valley emptying into the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.  You may have heard about a country music band called ‘Shenandoah’.  You may not have heard of the town of Shenandoah, Virginia.

What is Shenandoah, Virginia?  Is it some major city we have never heard of?  Did some great events happen there?  Is it the home of some great company or organization?

It began as Shenandoah Iron Works, Virginia.

Some of you are saying, “Well, that is a strange name for a town.”

Why was it named Shenandoah Iron Works?  When two brothers, Daniel, and Henry Forrer, established the town in 1837, it was because of the region was rich with iron ore and high-grade limestone, and with its proximity to the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, the town had a water source and a means to transport goods to towns along the river.  Because of the rich minerals, it became the home of the Shenandoah Iron Works.  Other furnaces where built around the town.  It became an important town during the American Civil War as pig iron was made and shipped to other towns.  Shenandoah, Virginia may be a small town, but it has so much history behind it.

Some of you are saying, “This is all great.  I enjoy visiting Shenandoah National Park, and I enjoy the Shenandoah Valley.  I even enjoy the Shenandoah River. I do enjoy hearing country music from the band ‘Shenandoah’.  As for Shenandoah, Virginia, well, it is a small town.  With no railroads, this is a place I will not enjoy.”

Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to see what is so special about a small town known as Shenandoah, Virginia.

As mentioned, the town was founded as Shenandoah Iron Works, Virginia.  It was named Shenandoah on March 8, 1890.  Although it was the home of the Shenandoah Iron Works, it later became a hub for the Shenandoah Valley Railroad, and the railroad played a major role in the economy of the town.  (The town was once named Milnes after William Milnes who was the President of the Shenandoah Valley Railroad.  He was a major contributor to the success of the town.)  The town began to erect itself along the railyard.  When the Norfolk and Western Railway came to the town, there was a roundhouse and machine shop built.  (They were burned in a fire in 1916.)  Along with iron ore and pig iron being transported, the town also had regular passenger service.

Today, the rail yard remains, and the passenger station is now a field office for the Norfolk Southern Railroad.  The yard remains, and you can see the Norfolk Southern trains roll through.  You can walk along First Street and see a small steam locomotive encased in glass.  If you get hungry, the Box Car located across from the old passenger station is where you can grab a bite to eat.

The town of Shenandoah, Virginia is  in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia along U.S. 340 between Luray and Elkton.  The railroad yard is a few blocks west of U.S. 340.  Please note that the train depot is private property and is not open to the public.  Parking is on the street.  You can learn more about the history of the town at http://www.townofshenandoah.com/history.html.  Please note that it is a long read detailing the history of the town to include floods, the iron industry, and the work of William Milnes.

So, you know about Shenandoah National Park.  You know about the Shenandoah River.  You know about the Shenandoah Valley.  You know about the country music band Shenandoah.  Now learn about the town of Shenandoah, Virginia.  It is a town about the railroad.  It is a town worth seeing.

It Was the Night on the Train Before Christmas

The Train at the Platform in Baltimore

It was the night on the train before Christmas and through the passenger car

The conductor was watching over the passengers who were traveling very far

One man was eating chocolates that were tasty

It delighted him so very, very hasty

A young lady was curled and sleeping in her seat

She removed her shoes and socks from her feet

They were on the train going to their special destination

They were rested while riding the train across the nation

Although it was such a very quiet and restful night

The smiles on everyone’s faces were so very bright

There was not a cloud not one drop of rain

It was a lovely Christmas Eve riding on the train

Riding on the train on a night we call Christmas Eve

When the trains stop, I am afraid no one will leave

It is a great Christmas Eve for all of us

Now I wish you all a very Merry Christmas

Eagle Rock, Virginia

U.S. Route 220 Going Under Eagle Rock.

The small unincorporated town of Eagle Rock is in the western part of the U.S. state of Virginia that is situated off U.S. Route 220 between the railroad meccas of Roanoke and Clifton Forge.  It is situated on the Jackson River, the same James River, and it was a canal town on the James River and Kanawha Canal.  What is the town’s claim to fame?  It was the home to a lime kiln.  Limestone was mined from quarries in the region and brought here to be refined in the kiln.

Ruins of the Lime Kiln

How was the lime shipped from eagle rock?

The Ruins of an Oven.

In the beginning, it was shipped on barges through the canal.  When the canal system went under, the railroad played a major role in the shipment of the lime.  The Richmond and Alleghany Railroad converged at Eagle Rock and carried the lime to other parts of the country.

The Main Line

Today, the lime kiln is in ruins.  The main railroad line still passes through the town and is now operated by CSX.  The old train station also remains and it a short walk from the kiln ruins, but it across the tracks and is not open to the public.  As you walk around the ruins, you can see the old rail lines in the ground when the hoppers were loaded.  You can see what remains of the ovens and chimneys.  Although the grounds are accessible all day, you will need to watch your footing as the grounds are uneven, and it will be difficult for those in wheelchairs to traverse the grounds.  There is also a steep hill to drive down to access the parking area which may be difficult for larger vehicles.  The parking area is small, but there is plenty of nearby street parking.  If you are fortunate enough, CSX may reward your visit with a passing freight train.  Please note that there are no facilities (restroom) on site.

Old Service Rail Line in the Ruins

Eagle Rock, Virginia is located off U.S. Route 220 by way of Virginia Route 43.  It is thirty-two miles north of Roanoke (Interstate 81 and U.S. Routes 11, 221 and 460) and fifteen miles south of Clifton Forge (Interstate 64 and U.S. Route 60).

The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Illinois

The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Illinois

You have New York City, New York as the Gateway to North America on the Atlantic Seaboard.  You have San Francisco, California as the Gateway to North America on the Pacific Seaboard.  These two major cities are at each end of Interstate 80.  What is so important about Interstate 80?  It passes through the southern region of the metropolitan area of Chicago, Illinois, which is known as the Hub of North America.  How is Chicago the Hub of North America?  It has one of the busiest airports in the world (O’Hare).  The Chicago metropolis is served by seven major interstate routes and eight U.S. Routes.  As for railroads, Chicago is a railroad haven being served by more railroads than any other metropolis in North America, and it is the home of the Pullman National Historic Site.  In fact, Trains Magazine calls Chicago the Railroad Capital of America.  The city is the home of many industries and corporations, and there are many great historic sites and museums.  Among those museums is the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.  The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry focusses on, of course, science and industry.  There are many exhibits focusing on the different aspects of science, but with Chicago being an industry mecca, it has exhibits on the different industries.  A trip to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry takes you to many worlds all under one roof.

Tornado Exhibit

Some of you are saying, “You know?  Chicago is known for so many great things.  It has great sport teams and is considered the greatest sports city in America.  It is a great railroad city particularly for railroad watching.  As for the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, it is about science, and it is about industry.  If it was called the Chicago Museum of Railroads, I will be delighted to visit this museum.  However, it is called the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry which is about science and industry and not railroads.  Therefore, I have made it a science to not visit this place.”

Electrical Turbine

It is called the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.  Yes, it has science exhibits focusing on different aspects of science.  However, it is also a museum that focusses on industry.  Industry is a general term as you have all kinds of industry like farming and manufacturing.  There are many exhibits on industry.  One of these exhibits focus on the industry of transportation, known as the Transportation Gallery.  It focusses on air travel, sea travel, automobile travel, and it is here where you will find ‘The Great Train Story’.

The Chicago Subway, Part of ‘The Great Train Story’

Some of you are saying, “I have heard this before.  Little train, little train choo, choo, choo.  Goes down the track, woo, woo, woo.  This is such a dorky story for kids.  I have no interest in this stuff.”

Train Passing Under Arch Bridge in ‘The great Train Story’

You are so very sorely mistaken.  That is not what The Great Train Story is.  What is The Great Train Story?  You will be amazed.  The Great Train Story is a large model train display.  The display depicts different regions from urban to rural to mountains to flatlands to major cities to small towns to the farms to the ocean ports.  Each section of this display has a story to tell.

At the Refinery, The Great Train Story

Some of you are saying, “Well, that sounds like something to see.”

Train on the Plain in The Great Train Story

It is, but there is more to the Transportation Gallery at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

The Warehouse at The Great Train Story

While in the Transportation Gallery, you will notice a steam locomotive.  What is this steam locomotive?  It is called ‘The Empire State Express’, Number 999.  The name come from the fact that it was used by the New York Central System to pull trains between New York City across the state of New York to the city of Buffalo.  The real special thing about this locomotive is that it was once the record holder for the fastest train ever.  Sadly, that record was broken ten years later, but it is here at the museum where you can easily board the locomotive.  No, you are not able to test the speed of the locomotive while it is in the museum.

Number 999 ‘Empire State Express’ of the New York Central System

Also, in the Transportation Gallery, you can also see a replica of ‘The Rocket’, and earlier style locomotive. Originally built in England, it was this locomotive that future steam locomotives would be designed after.  Its wooden boiler and steel stack and large driving wheels, it had a unique and attractive style like many of the nineteenth century locomotives.  You can also climb aboard the Number 532 streetcar.  Sadly, it does not go anywhere, but you can get a glimpse of a trolley ride when trolleys where the form of transportation in many major cities.

The ‘Rocket’

Some of you are saying, “Well, I guess that is all they have about railroads.”

Trolley Number 532

Not exactly.

Waterfall and Bridge, The Great Train Story

Along with the industry of transportation to include railroad transportation, you also have another industry that uses railroads: the mining industry.

Old Coal Mining Car

Welcome to the Old Ben Number 17 Coal Mining Company.  Well, it is not an actual coal mine, but it is a replica of an Illinois mine.  Therefore, you will not have to worry about coal dust or being trapped in a real mine.  Oh, while you are waiting, you will not be out in the elements but inside the confines of the museum.  Well, it is time.  The tour guide gives you the safety brief.  It may not be a real coal mine, but the safety briefing is still important.  Now, you step onto the elevator that takes you deep into the mine.  You arrive at the bottom.  You walk into the room and wait.  For what?  The mine train pulls up.  Oh, you get to ride this one.  You get onto to the cramped car, and you ride around.  You reach your stop and get off.  The tour guide tells you the different things about mining and how things work.  Oh, be advised.  This is a replica mine, not a real one.  You arrive at the end of the tour, and you head back up to the surface, I mean, museum.

Coal Miner

You think this is it.  You are not finished yet.

Climb aboard the Pioneer Zephyr and enjoy a fast luxury ride.  Well, the train never leaves the museum, but you can tour the train and see what it was like to travel in style in the glory days of train travel.  It will feel like you are on your way across the Midwest of America, but you will forget that you are in a museum.

The Pioneer Zephyr

Now, are you still going to say that you are not going to visit this museum?  You have been given many reasons why you should.  Along with the railroad displays, there are many other great things to see here to include the U-505 Submarine, ‘Yesterday’s Main Street’ and Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle.  It is also the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere.  You will need a few hours and maybe an entire day to see everything here.

The U-505

The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry is at 5700 South Lake Shore Drive (U.S. Route 41) at the north end of Jackson Park.  It is open year-round, but hours vary by time of year.  Parking is paid underground garage parking which can be helpful during the cold winter months.  You can get all of the information you need at https://www.msichicago.org/.

‘Yesterday’s Main Street’

Whenever you are in the ‘Windy City’ of Chicago, Illinois, make sure you get enough wind to get you to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.  See the Great Train Story, the Empire State Express, the Rocket, the 532 and the Pioneer Zephyr.  While there, mine some coal in the coal mine.  On second thought, you better not do that as other visitors will need to see the coal as well.  Most important of all, enjoy your visit at the museum.

The Old Norfolk and Western Railway Station, Roanoke, Virginia

The Old Norfolk and Western Railway Station in Roanoke, Virginia

The city of Roanoke, Virginia, located in the southwest region of the state, is referred to as the ‘Star City of the South’.  How does that city get that name?  Well, it is the home of the largest mad-made star in the world.  It sits on top of Mill Mountain and overlooks downtown and the Roanoke Valley.  The great thing about Roanoke is that it is a big railroad city with the main line going through the heart of downtown.  It was the hub for the Norfolk and Western Railroad and for the Virginian Railroad, and it was a hub for the Norfolk Southern Railroad.  It was here at the shops where the Class J locomotives were built, and it is where the Class J Norfolk and Western Number 611 makes its home at the Virginia Museum of Transportation.  Being a mecca of railroading, Roanoke is the home of three surviving train depots.  The original ‘Big Lick’ train depot is at the Virginia Museum of Transportation.  Just a few blocks from downtown is the old Virginian Railroad depot that is now used for renting out for events.  Then you have the old Norfolk and Western Railway Station.  It may not be as grand as the original Penn Station in New York City, but it has a little grandeur for a city like Roanoke, Virginia.

A Model of the Norfolk and Western Railway Class J Locomotive 611

Yes, the old Norfolk and Western Railway Station was a fine station for a city like Roanoke that could have challenged many of the big city train stations.  Unlike the original Penn Station in New York City, this station was preserved.  Only the train platforms have been removed.  Although the trains do not stop here, you can still see the trains go by.

Model Train

So, what is the old Norfolk and Western Railway Station used for today?  Well, it has three purposes.

The Norfolk and Western Number 1218 on Display at the Virginia Museum of Transportation. This was O. Winston Link’s Favorite Locomotive.

First, it is the home of the Roanoke Valley Visitor Center.  Yes, this is another train depot that has ended up as a visitor center, but this visitor center has a little of a grand entrance with the high ceilings and the marble walls and floors.  It will feel like you are in a grand train station except that the only trains that are here a large-scale-models encased in glass.  If your feet get tired, feel free to sit on the original passenger benches.  You can also check out the gift shop while you are here.

The Old Big Lick Train Depot on Display at the Virginia Museum of Transportation

What is the second purpose?

Behind the Old Train Station. The Passenger Trains Would have Stopped Here.

It is the home of the History Museum of Western Virginia displaying the way of life in the region.  The displays include the history of Roanoke and a land grant deed signed by Thomas Jefferson, the drafter, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States of America.

The Norfolk and Western Railway Number 611, a Class J Locomotive Built in Roanoke and is the Last Surviving Class J.

What is the third purpose?

Number 611

It is the home of the O. Winston Link Museum.  Who is O. Winston Link?  Ogle Winston Link is known as the last photographer of the steam locomotive.  Although he was from New York and passed away there, he had a big heart for the city of Roanoke.  Why?  As mentioned, Roanoke is a big railroad city, and the Norfolk and Western Railway had their shops in Roanoke.  Yes, other cities and towns had railroads shops, but the Norfolk and Western Railway was special to O. Winston Link.  What was special about the Norfolk and Western Railway?  It was the last railroad in the United States of America to pull their trains with steam locomotives.  For many decades, most railroads were using diesel locomotives, but the Norfolk and Western Railway continued to use steam locomotives into the 1950’s.  Many of his photograph’s are on display at the museum all in black and white.  What was his favorite photograph?  His was very fond on the Norfolk and Western Number 1218.  In his last will and testament, he stated that Number 1218 was to be on display for all to see next to the Norfolk and Western Railway Station.  Sadly, due to concerns of protecting the locomotive from danger and vandalism, it was not put on display at the station.  Instead, it was put on display at the Virginia Museum of Transportation where it stands today.  Even though it was born from the shops of the Norfolk and Western Railway, it stands as a testament of O. Winston Link to this day.

Norfolk and Western Railway 2156

The Norfolk and Western Railway Station is at 101 Shenandoah Avenue NE in Roanoke, Virginia.  It is just minutes from Interstate 581 and U.S. Routes 11, 220 and 221.  It is open from 10:00am to 5:00pm Tuesday to Saturday.  (Closed on Sunday and Monday.)  Limited parking is available at the train station.  Otherwise, there is street parking.  Admission is required.  You can get more information at https://roanokehistory.org/.  The Visitor Center is operated by the Roanoke Valley Office of Tourism.  The History Museum of Western Virginia and the O. Winston Link Museum are operated by the Historical Society of Western Virginia.  To see the Norfolk and Western 1218, you can go to the Virginia Museum of Transportation at http://www.vmt.org/.

Norfolk and Western Railway Number 6 at the Virginia Museum of Transportation

The next time you are in southwestern Virginia, head to Roanoke.  Head to the old Norfolk and Western Railway Station.  Come be where the railroad is the ‘star’ attraction.

The Mill Mountain Star, Roanoke, Virginia