Grants may be museum's only shot at survival

June 21, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

by RIC DUGAN / staff photographer


Weathered sign on roundhouse stalls

If the dream of area rail buffs comes true, it won't be the first time a dilapidated roundhouse complex has been turned into a tourism attraction.

But, some of the better known ones have had major funding forces behind them - from private owners to the National Park Service.

So even if they survive CSX Corp.'s July 3 demolition deadline, there's still the matter of who has the big bucks to help here.


CSX Corp. has offered the 40-acre roundhouse complex along South Burhans Boulevard to the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum Inc. for $500,000, a bargain price.

But it comes with an unknown liability that some city officials fear could result in hundreds of millions of dollars.

CSX officials want a government agency to take on legal responsibility for any liabilities that occur above or below ground, including any unknown environmental problems.

Besides $50,000 in private donations so far and a planned $5 million fund-raising campaign to renovate the 25-stall roundhouse and stores building, museum officials are applying for federal, state and private grants, said Bob Tracey, museum president.

Museum officials also are talking to the Smithsonian Institution about displaying railroad equipment in Hagerstown and hope the famed museums will help fund the renovation, Tracey said.

The Hagerstown complex was a candidate for a rail museum and tourist complex known as Steamtown in 1977, but a lack of community support compelled the National Park Service to choose Scranton, Pa., instead, Tracey said.

The park service helped fund a $66 million, 10-year renovation at a 52-acre railroad yard and roundhouse complex, that resulted in Steamtown, which attracted about 183,000 tourists last year, said spokesman Ralph Coury.

Steamtown includes the most complete collection in the nation of vintage rail equipment and rolling stock from the steam era, Coury said.

The Steamtown Web site is

Some other efforts to turn old roundhouses into tourism attractions are:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Walter Payton, a famed former running back with the Chicago Bears, was part of a group that restored an Aurora, Ill., roundhouse built in 1856, and expanded in 1866, into a brew pub, brewery, cognac and cigar bar and Payton's Hall of Fame museum, according to the roundhouse's Web site

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> The Mount Clare roundhouse near downtown Baltimore has been restored by the B&O railroad and CSX Corp. over the years into a national historic landmark that hosts the B&O Railroad Museum, drawing 100,000 visitors a year.

The roundhouse, which is actually round, is rented almost every weekend for events to help cover operating costs, said Anne Calhoun, museum archivist. The Web site is

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Norfolk Southern donated a 55-acre roundhouse complex to Savannah, Ga., allowing it to be restored for about $750,000 with the help of private grants, city money, donations and volunteers.

The roundhouse, circa 1865, is the oldest in the country, said Chris Sommers, assistant to the Historic Railroad Shops manager.

The shops, which opened in 1991, drew almost 23,000 visitors last year, Sommers said.

"We're hoping it will get bigger as word of mouth gets around. It's not as big as hoped," Sommers said. While the project didn't have a lot of community support, it garnered support from major railroading clubs in neighboring states, he said. The Web site is

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> The North Carolina Transportation Museum renovated a 37-stall roundhouse built in 1924 with an $8 million federal grant that was matched by local governments and private donations, including Food Lion, said Larry Neal, adult programs coordinator.

The 57-acre Spencer, N.C., complex offers a 30-minute guided tour by train. The complex features displays of vehicles from the days of the dug out Indian canoes to modern automobiles, including antique automobiles, he said.

The Web site is

Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum Inc. has a Web site at

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Roundhouse museum officials still holding out hope

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