The Reopening of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum
By: Courtney Wilson
American history is filled with significant dates. Presidents’ Day Weekend celebrates two of our most well-respected presidents. In 2003, the weekend became etched in American history once again – not due to a celebration but rather a tragic event.
During Presidents’ Day weekend in 2003, a record-breaking snowstorm swept through the state of Maryland, dumping a record three-foot snowfall onto the roof of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum’s signature building, the National Historic Landmark 1884 Baldwin Roundhouse. The weight of the snow caused a partial collapse of the roof which fell onto the backs of rare 19th and 20th century iron horses. Majestic locomotives peeked through an enormous pile of slate, wood and steel rubble.
With the goal of rebuilding, restoring and reopening this national treasure, the Museum staff along with teams of architects, engineers and construction crews have worked tirelessly throughout the 22 months leading up to reopening. Throughout this process, the Museum’s mantra has been “better than ever” and they have worked hard to meet the goal of not only restoring a national treasure but also making it even better than before – but not without major challenges.
First and foremost, the Museum had to repair the lower roof of the historic Roundhouse in such a manner as to preserve the National Historic Landmark status, a distinction the 1884 Roundhouse shares with the most important architecture in America. In addition to the lower roof, the Museum had to rebuild the upper roof and dome–known as the clerestory and lantern. Knowledge of the structural weaknesses in the upper sections of the Roundhouse roof did not come to light until nearly four months into the project.
The Museum also worked to solve all the code compliancy issues inherent in a building constructed in 1884, such as international, state and city building codes, life safety codes and to provide access for all people through the Americans with Disabilities Act. During the planning and execution of this tremendous restoration project, the management staff took the time to review, study and consider the past in light of creating a new, progressive and forward looking operational plan.
One of the most significant challenges was raising the funds necessary to cover all of the expenses not covered by insurance. These costs included reconstruction of the clerestory and lantern, continuing operating funds to keep staff working and the lights and heat on without revenue and, last but not least, restoring the treasured locomotives, railroad cars and artifacts.
The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum will celebrate the rebirth of its signature Roundhouse when it reopens its doors to the public the weekend of November 13-14, 2004. Visitors will be able to celebrate the complete restoration of the 1884 National Historic Landmark Roundhouse, and also experience some of the museum’s expanded facilities.
New exhibition galleries will host inaugural shows featuring the Smithsonian’s Model Railroad Collection, Railroad China and Silver, and Clocks, Pocket Watches and Railroad Time.
Brand new interpretive panels will provide insight into the historical significance and the cultural aspects of different exhibits and the artifacts presented within.
Visitors will rediscover more than 150 pieces of the most important and comprehensive collection of railroad locomotives and rolling stock in the Western Hemisphere.
On the two new outdoor train exhibition platforms, visitors get an inside view of many of the Museum’s trains unavailable to the public prior to the collapse. Displayed in the C&O #725 passenger car will be the new HO model train layout, which depicts the lay-of-the-land from Baltimore’s port to the Midwest.
All aboard for train rides along the “most historic railroad right of way in America.” The Museum will now offer daily train rides from April through December and during weekends in January. No train rides are scheduled during February and March. Patrons will want to make sure they stop by the new museum store to take home a souvenir of their return to the birthplace of American railroading.
The Museum’s first major event is Holiday Festival of Trains, a seasonal favorite and Museum tradition, beginning on Friday, November 26, 2004 and continuing throughout the holiday season until Thursday, December 30, 2004.
Patrons will want to mark their calendars for Memorial Day Weekend 2005 when the Museum will unveil its state of the art restoration facility and open the historic North Passenger Car Shop to the public. For more information on the Museum’s reopening celebrations and programs, interested parties can visit www.borail.org