Museum mission: Comprised of the oldest and most comprehensive collection of railroad history in the Western Hemisphere, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum, Inc. is a unique cultural and educational asset for the city and the region. An unparalleled roster of the 19th and 20th century railroad equipment, original shop buildings, and surviving tracks at the historic Mt. Clare site provide an integrated resource to present virtually every aspect of American railroad development and its impact on our society, culture and economy.
I visited the B&O Railroad Museum: Ellicott City Station on the second-to-last day of the museum’s Holiday Festival of Trains. My companions were my friend Diana and her one-year-old son Gabe, about whom you may have read in other blog posts. All three of us had already been to the B&O Railroad Museum’s main site in Baltimore. In comparison, the Ellicott City site is smaller and more local to the town where we grew up.
With the Holiday Festival of Trains in place, each room we visited had a dual purpose: the interpretation of the historical uses of the room (the main building was constructed in 1830-1831; it is the oldest American railway station still surviving today) and the display of a model train set.
After buying tickets, the first room we entered was the Freight Agent’s Living Quarters. The room is set up to look as it might have from 1840 to 1868, when the freight agent ate and slept there. There is a writing desk, shelves for food and a table for eating, and a simple bed complete with a pretend cat dozing on the quilt.
A costumed interpreter in this room told us that the museum and its larger counterpart in Baltimore were “bookends” of the first 13 miles of railroad in the country. Passing around a piece of granite for visitors to touch, she explained that the building was made of granite; it would have been destroyed by flooding had it been built of a weaker material.
Upstairs were several more rooms, each with a model train display. In the Ladies Waiting Room, women and children used to purchase their train tickets. The model train set here depicted Thomas the Tank Engine traveling through the countryside, passing structures like a gazebo and a windmill, with a hot air balloon rider looking at the scene from above.
The Telegraph/Ticket Office is a small room with a train set made of tiny pieces. There are two ticket counters and windows built into the room, accommodating the waiting rooms on either side.
Next we entered the larger of the two waiting rooms – the one used by men. This room’s train display was holiday-appropriate, with snow, evergreens, Christmas presents, and bundled-up children. On the walls of the room are a sign that says “Passenger Room” and exhibit cases about the role of Howard County and the railroad in the Civil War.
The most labor-intensive train display was in the Car House. This impressive model was made of Legos, taking months to complete. Trains and Lego people were surrounded by a whole city of buildings including a hotel, a factory, a haunted house, and of course a train station. Some parts of the large train garden portray historic buildings in Ellicott City and Baltimore. The Car House was initially used for storing and repairing train cars, before train cars outgrew the size of the space.
In the Freight House is the permanent model train display, showing a replica of the 13 original railroad miles from Ellicott City to Baltimore. Our final stop was the 1927 caboose, where we could climb ladders and sit on the seats while listening to a narration about the vehicle.
Throughout the visit, Gabe was enthralled (if at times also confused) by the buttons one could push to make certain parts of the train displays light up or spring into action. His greatest delight seemed to be when he successfully pressed the Morse code display and heard the click. He would press it, turn around and give me and Diana a huge smile, and press it again. In the caboose, he enjoyed staring out the window and watching people walk by outside.
The museum’s primary subject matter is, of course, trains – a form of transportation. But there was also much to see and learn related to buildings, made of everything from Legos to granite.
January’s blog theme is Communication Is Architecture.