The Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum brings history to life
Screenwriter / Angela Cornell
The first rail journey was the Penydarren Ironworks tramway in South Wales in 1804. However, the first American train did not‘t operated until 1827 when the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was established. Ever since the first passenger train on American soil began running in 1830, it’s been a method of travel that many people have come to appreciate and rely on.
Even though there are other means of transport, there is something about trains – especially old, retired ones – that one can‘t fail to appreciate. “What we’ve noticed is that there’s a lot of nostalgia associated with trains and railroads,” says Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum board member Bob Barcus.
North Judson was a hub of railroad activity from 1825 until the railroad was decommissioned in 2004. During its peak years, the town saw about 125 trains a day, with a large part of North Judson.‘s population working for the railway. When that was obviously fading, several railroad history enthusiasts in the area devoted countless hours to ensuring that a piece of that history was preserved for future generations.
Now, over 30 years later, it’s a thrilling attraction. “Many of our visitors have no idea,” says Barcus. “They don’t know anything about trains at all. Once gone, they‘are like, ‘Wow, I haven’t‘I don’t know it was here. I did‘I don’t know it happened here or was happening.
There are two parts to this attraction. The first is a museum explaining northwest Indiana‘s history with the rails. “Many of the photos and such that are on display are actually from my personal collection,” Barcus says. “There are some really cool things to watch.
Another interesting attraction is their collection of operational road signs and a new area of the museum that is currently under construction to accommodate the Grasselli Tower, a reassembled East Chicago railroad tower. “This‘It’s going to be a real attraction when we do,” Barcus says. There are several other fun exhibits at the museum that will delight train enthusiasts of all ages.
Another attraction is a working railway, with steam trains, which runs every Saturday and for special occasions like Father‘s day. The trail takes visitors through the Greater Kankakee Marsh, which was once known as the “Northern Everglades” before being drained in the 1920s. “The‘a lot of rich history that is associated with that, whether‘s Native American history or the railroad history of that,” Barcus says.
The Hoosier Valley Railroad crosses the Kankakee River and what was once English Lake, but was lost due to drainage efforts. “This‘It’s an interesting train journey with a bit of that history,” says Barcus. “You‘re going through very beautiful regions. This‘a transition zone between the eastern forests and the central prairie, and it shows.
The museum has attracted people from all over the world and connects them to local history. “Really, what we‘what we’re trying to do is tell a story,” Barcus says.
Barcus and the other volunteers also hear stories from visitors walking around the museum. “In many cases, they may have a little tidbit of history that we may not be able to.‘I don’t know,” Barcus says. “Or maybe we have a gap in our knowledge. Some of our older guys can be like, ‘I do not have any‘I don’t know what happened during those years. I had gone into the army.‘ So someone else will be like, ‘You know what? I lived in North Judson.‘ Then they will continue to tell this story, and it‘is fascinating.
The Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum team is always looking for volunteers to help tell this story. It is open to the public on Saturdays from May to October and on special occasions throughout the year. It is located at 507 Mulberry Street in North Judson. Contact us by calling 574-896-3950 or emailing [email protected] Learn more about them by visiting their website at hoosiervalley.org.