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The West Virginia Railroad Museum, Elkins, West Virginia

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Here you are.  You are in Elkins, West Virginia.  You have done one of the best things to do in Elkins: ride the train.  You just got off the Cheat Mountain Salamander or the Tygart Flyer or the Mountain Explorer.  Your day is done here.  Right?

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Wrong!  You must make your way to the West Virginia Railroad Museum.

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Just a short walk from the Elkins Depot is the West Virginia Railroad Museum.  You will not see any old locomotives, old rail cars or old cabooses.  What you will find is detailed chronologic history of railroading in the state of West Virginia.  From the arrival of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to the coal mines to the different towns across the state, the railroad has been a big part of the state.  The museum features model trains to include displays of towns and industrial areas, old railroad maintenance equipment.  There are also old photos of the railroads.  It is a small museum, but you will see much about the railroads of West Virginia, and they have changing exhibits each year so you will want to come back again and again.

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The West Virginia Railroad Museum is a project site of the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area.  It is located on the upper floor of the old Darden Mill which was built on railroad property making it a great place for the museum.  Opened in 2014, it is a great compliment to your visit to Elkins.  It is open from mid-April to October from Thursday to Sunday 9:30am to 5:00pm.  General admission only $5.00 with children under five free.  It is located at 2 Railroad Avenue in Elkins, West Virginia.  Parking is on the street, or you can park at the depot.  You can learn more about the museum and about some of the restoration projects they are working on at https://wvrailmuseum.com.

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Next time you ride the Mountain Trains from Elkins,West Virginia, take a little extra time to see the West Virginia Railroad Museum.

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Gaithersburg Community Museum, Gaithersburg, Maryland

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Gaithersburg, Maryland is a suburb of Washington D.C. although it is the fourth largest city in the state of Maryland behind Baltimore and two other suburbs, Frederick and Rockville.  It was settled as ‘Log Town’ in 1765 as an agricultural town.  By 1805 it was known as Gaithersburg after Benjamin Gaither, a man who owned a general store that was located at the crossroads of the town.  The town continued to grow and was incorporated as a town in 1878.  In 1968, it was incorporated as a city.  To this day the city continues to thrive making it a major business town.  You can make a visit to the Gaithersburg Community Museum and see the history of how the city developed to what it is today.

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Now some of you are saying, “That is so nice.  I had never heard of Gaithersburg, Maryland before, and I have never heard of the Gaithersburg Community Museum.  It is nice to hear about the success of this city.  However, I am more interested in railroads.  Therefore, I am not interested in Gaithersburg, Maryland or this museum.”

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As mentioned, Gaithersburg was originally settled as an agricultural town.  However, something came here that changed this town.

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When Gaithersburg was settled, it was along what is now Maryland Route 335 which runs between Washington D.C. and Frederick, Maryland.  (A few of the original structures remain including a manor house next to the Gaithersburg High School.)  This was the center of town until 1873.  What happened?  The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad came to the area and built at train station.  The railroad was a major contributor to the growth of the town.  The town center moved from the ‘Frederick Road’ (now Maryland Route 355) to the train station on the main line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and this remains the town center to the present day.  (The line is now owned by CSX.)  Today, it would be a fitting place to have the Gaithersburg Community Museum which is housed in the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad freight house.

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The exhibits at the Gaithersburg Community Museum explores the history of Gaithersburg including the railroad history.  The museum also has a caboose, a Rail Diesel Car used to transport commuters on the Marc Commuter Trains that still serve the station today, and Number 14 from the Buffalo Creek Railroad.  Once you are finished seeing the exhibits, you can grab a drink or sandwich next door in the old passenger station.  If you are fortunate enough, you can watch a CSX, Amtrak or Marc Commuter train roll by.

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The Gaithersburg Community Museum is located at 9 South Summit Avenue next to the CSX line.  It is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00am to 3:00pm.  Admission is free, but they gladly accept donations to help keep the museum running.  Parking is free as well.  You can see more about the museum at https://www.gaithersburgmd.gov/about-us/city-facilities/gaithersburg-community-museum.

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The Connecticut Trolley Museum, East Windsor, Connecticut

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Very few cities use trolleys as a means of transit today, and the days of the trolley are fading into memory.  There are many trolley museums across the United States of America that are trying to keep the memory of the trolley alive.  One of those museums is the Connecticut Trolley Museum in East Windsor, Connecticut.

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Now some of you are saying, “I know.  This is just another trolley museum.  You come to the museum.  You see the trolleys on display.  You see their restoration projects.  You ride the trolley down the line to some destination.  You wave at people going by.  They have special events.  Yippee.  Face it.  This is just like any other trolley museum.”

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You can say that.  They do have an extensive collection of trolleys and interurban cars.  Much of their collection was used in the urban regions of Connecticut plus a few from Brooklyn, New York and Chicago, Illinois.  The museum goes deep into the history of trolleys in the state of Connecticut.  The Connecticut Trolley Museum is a trolley museum with so much more.  It is worth a visit.

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The Connecticut Trolley Museum is located at 58 North Road (Connecticut Route 140) in East Windsor, Connecticut just east of Interstate 91 and U.S. Route 5.  They are open between April and December.  (Hours vary through the season.)  Admission is only $11.00 for adults, and there is plenty of parking on site.  You can learn more about the museum, their collection, events and the days it is open at https://www.ct-trolley.org/.

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Make your way to the Connecticut Trolley Museum… a trolley museum that is much more.

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‘America on the Move’, National Museum of American History, Washington D.C.

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The Smithsonian Institution is the largest chain of museums in the world.  Among those museums is the National Museum of American History formerly known as the museum of History and Technology.  Located on the National Mall in Washington D.C., it shows the history of life in the United States of America.  Some of the museum’s features include the war boat ‘Philadelphia’ and the American flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 at the time Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the poem that became the national anthem of the United States of America.  You will see how America became the nation it is today with a visit to this museum.

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Now some of you are saying, “This is great.  I enjoy visiting Washington D.C. with all the monuments, and the Smithsonian has great museums.  This museum does not have anything to do with trains.  Therefore, I have scratched this particular museum off my list.”

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You have scratched the National Museum of American History from your list.  Be advised that ‘you’ are making a very ‘big’ mistake.

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The National Museum of American History displays the history of the United States of America.  This history includes transportation.  What is part of transportation?  Railroads.  One thing you will find on display is the John Bull steam locomotive.  Originally built in England in 1831 and brought to America, it was used between New York and Philadelphia.  Today, you can see it at the museum.

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In case you are wondering, that is not all.

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Welcome to the ‘America on the Move’ exhibit.  As soon as you enter, you see the Number 3 Jupiter locomotive from the Santa Cruz Railroad Company.  You then enter a box car from the Southern Pacific.  Then you see the Number 303 streetcar from Washington D.C.  From there, you see the Southern Railway Depot where passengers are sitting waiting for their train to come.  You walk past an exhibit on the railroad workers and see the 1401 Charlotte steam locomotive which was built in the shops in Salisbury, North Carolina.  If that is not enough, you can take your seat in a Chicago subway car.

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Is the National Museum of American History on your list of museums to visit?  You now have a reason to put it on your list.

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The National Museum of American History Kenneth E. Behring Center is located on Constitution Avenue NW (U.S. 1/50) between 12th Street and 14th Street.  It is next to the National Mall.  It is open from 10:00am to 5:30pm every day (except December 25).  There is no admission to visit the museum, but you will need to pass through a security checkpoint.  The museum does not have any parking.  Parking is street parking that may fill up quickly during the day, or you can find a nearby parking garage.  Public transportation is another option.  You can get more information at https://americanhistory.si.edu/.

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As you can see, Washington D.C. is not just about politics.  It is about museums.  It is about the Smithsonian Institution.  It is about the National Museum of American History.  It is about ‘America on the Move’.  It is about the transportation… of railroads.

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The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Heritage Center, Clifton Forge, Virginia

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Clifton Forge, Virginia, is a small town in the western part of Virginia surrounded by the Appalachian Mountains.  It is served by Interstate 64 and U.S. Route 220.  To most people, it is not much of a town.  However, it was a major town on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, and it is the home of the Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Society, and it is where you will find the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Heritage Center.

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The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Heritage Center is a museum that displays the history of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway and how it was a major contributor to the growth of the nation, and it is a tribute to the people who built and worked on the railroad.  The Heritage Center features the old Clifton Forge depot which houses the gift shop and the visitor center and restrooms.  There is also and old switch tower and an old freight house that houses the Henry Hoffman Heritage Center.  The freight house displays model trains showing the areas served by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway to includes models of train depots along the line.  There are also many artifacts and miniature locomotives of the railroad.  On the outside you can see the ‘Greenbrier’ steam locomotive, and you can climb into a passenger car, dining car and sleeping car.  There are also a few cabooses and an outdoor miniature train.  There is much to see here, and if you are fortunate enough, you may see a passing train on the active main line.

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The Chesapeake and Ohio Heritage Center is located at 705 Main Street (Business U.S. 220) in Clifton Forge, Virginia) just minutes from Interstate 64.  It is open from Wednesday to Saturday from 10:00am to 4:00pm between March 1 to December 31.  (It is closed in January and February.)  There is parking on site.  You can learn more about the museum and about the history of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad at http://cohs.org/heritage/.

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The next time you hear about the town of Clifton Forge, Virginia, think about a small town that made a big contribution to the railroad.

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Liberty State Park, Jersey City, New Jersey

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Imagine this.  You are on a ship.  You see nothing but open water around you.  You have been at sea for many days.  Then… you see it.  You see… the Statue of Liberty.  You have arrived in the land known as America.  The ship slowly passes the statue, and everyone cheers.  The ship pulls up to the dock of Ellis Island where you pass through customs.  “Welcome to America,” you hear.  You are now in the Land of the Free.

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Now some of you are saying, “That is so wonderful.  I always enjoyed watching those old stories on how people came to Ellis Island.  How about the Statue of Liberty?  It is always such an amazing site to see.  There is one very big problem.  When people came to America through Ellis Island, they came by boat, not by train.  When you are coming from Europe and Africa, boats, not trains, were the way you came.  Therefore, you will not see me anywhere around these islands.”

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You have a great point.  Because the Atlantic Ocean divides Europe and Africa from North America, everyone did arrive by boat.  How did they continue from here?

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As mentioned, people were brought to Ellis Island as it was were everyone went through U.S. Customs at the time.  Once they passed through customs, they were then ferried to what is now Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey.

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Now some of you are saying, “Wow!  Jersey City, New Jersey is where many first stepped onto mainland America.  However, they still went by boat.”

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That is true, but they did not stay there.  When they came to Jersey City, something special was awaiting them to take them deeper into this new land called America.  They arrived at the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal.  You have read it correctly.  They departed Jersey City by train to destinations across America.

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The terminal was built on land that was filled in from ballast of ocean-going ships.  The terminal was enlarged through the years to accommodate more passengers.  In 1914, a larger terminal was built with 20 sheds, and it was the largest train shed ever built.  It became a commuter station for those commuting to New York City connecting to the ferry.  In 1967, railroad traffic was rerouted to a terminal in Newark, and service ceased at the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal.  It fell into ruin until it was bought with state and local funds.  The head house was restored, but the shed areas were left in ruin as a reminder of what once was.  It was later added on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places.

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Today, the old Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal is part of Liberty State Park and has been preserved as a museum.  You can see a few cars on display to include a caboose, boxcar and baggage car.  You can see the ruins of the terminal where the people awaited the trains to take them to their destinations.  You can walk through the restored head house where people waited for the trains and purchased tickets.  If time allows, you can purchase tickets to ride the ferry to Ellis Island and to Liberty Island.  You can walk outside a get a great view of downtown New York City to include the Freedom Tower and a view of the Empire State Building.  You can also view the 9-11 Memorial that remembers those who lost their lives in the World Trade Center disaster.

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Liberty State Park is located at 1 Audrey Zapp Drive in Jersey City, New Jersey.  There is paid parking on the west side of the old terminal.  (It is right where the trains would have exited the terminal.)  There is no admission fee to walk around the park to see the old terminal, the skyline of New York City, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and the 9-11 Memorial, but there is an admission fee for the ferry to both Ellis and Liberty Islands.  (Please note that there may be long wait times for the ferry.)  You can find more information on the hours, ferry times and the history of the terminal at https://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/liberty.html.

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The next time you see the Statue of Liberty or a photo of it, think of it as a lady welcoming people to a new land.  Think of it as a lady shining the light of freedom.  Think of it as the place where many rode their first train in North America.

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The Baltimore and Ohio Roundhouse, Martinsburg, West Virginia

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Martinsburg, West Virginia is a town located in the eastern panhandle of the state.  It is not a place that is on many lists of places to visit.  It can be overshadowed by nearby Harper’s Ferry that is known for its role in the American Civil War.  Martinsburg also had a role in the war.  The town has a few historic sites, but there is one site that stands out.

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Welcome to the Baltimore and Ohio Roundhouse in Martinsburg, West Virginia.  When the railroad came to Martinsburg in 1842, the roundhouse was built in 1849.  Trains were serviced here as they traveled east and west across the county.  Very few roundhouses remain as they were demolished after they were no longer needed, but historian and preservationist fought to save this one from demolition.  Why?  It is the oldest roundhouse in the world built with iron trusses supporting the roof that covers the turntable.

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During the American Civil War, Martinsburg was destroyed, and the railroad yards suffered much destruction by the hand of Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson.  Locomotives that were seized in the ‘Great Train Raid of 1861’ were brought to Martinsburg.  He commanded his troops to destroy bridges and the tracks between Martinsburg and Point of Rocks, Maryland stopping train traffic.  The roundhouse and the shops plus many locomotives and rail cars were destroyed.  The war ended in 1865, and the roundhouse and shops were rebuilt in 1866.

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Through the years, the roundhouse went through the ‘Great Railroad Strike of 1877’, and the shops remained in service until 1988 when the work was sent to other locations.  The roundhouse was abandoned and was vandalized in 1990 leaving only the other walls.  The roundhouse was purchased by the Berkeley County Commission from CSX, and the preservation began.

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Today, trains still pass by the roundhouse, but only passenger trains stop here to pick up passengers at the nearby Caperton Station.  You can get a great view of the roundhouse from the parking lot.  Also, tours are also available on select Saturdays from March to November.

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The Martinsburg Roundhouse in located at 100 Liberty Street in Martinsburg, West Virginia.  It is across the tracks from the Caperton Station.  Tours are available for $5.00.  Please note that the roundhouse is currently not handicap accessible, but they hope to make it accessible in the future.  Access to the roundhouse does require climbing stairs, and much of the floor is uneven.  The roundhouse also has a room that can also be rented out for events.  You can get more information at https://www.themartinsburgroundhouse.com/.

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Martinsburg, West Virginia is a place of much history, and it has much history around the railroad.  Now you have a reason to visit Martinsburg, and if the roundhouse is not open for tours, worry not.  It is still a great site to see.

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