Karen Jennings and the team at the Greenwood Railroad Heritage Center are keeping things rolling during the pandemic by working on updates and exhibits for future visitors.
While their season for regular tours usually begins mid-May (with private group tours by appointment all year), the pandemic has left a lot of time to catch up on to-do lists. But the staff has gone beyond maintenance, bringing some new projects on board for a bigger, better experience.
“We’re working on a lot of projects in the museum,” she says, “cleaning up the basement, redoing the floors, and setting up new exhibits. We’re also using the time to get caught up on projects like the mailing list. We’ve been very productive, and we’re actually busier than usual.”
A grant for several improvements to the Railroad Center funded a concrete pad, paved pathways and a lift to make the trains more accessible, opening up the diner, sleeper and the rear of the Carolina car to visitors with mobility issues. Historic seats have been restored, and other restoration plans are moving forward.
Staff member Nickie Murphy is especially looking forward to a better-than-ever holiday season. “We’re already planning the lights for next season,” she says, “We’re like the Griswolds.”
Wooden figures, a gingerbread house in the old “hat house” on the grounds, and lots and lots of lights are hallmarks of the center’s holiday events. Children (and parents) love the annual North Pole Express, and the entire community is part of the production. With stories in the passenger car, snacks in the diner, and even some dancing elves, the center has relied on high school theater students, the culinary department at Self Regional College, and “elves” from a local dance studio.
The Railroad Center began when two area railroad buffs bought a 1906 Baldwin steam engine, a 2-8-2 “Mikado,” which had been doing short runs from a nearby quarry but was no longer needed, as more steam trains were being replaced by diesel engines. Those train buffs were gifted with several other cars, and the collection now includes a Piedmont & Northern Interurban unit and caboose, a Seaboard Air Line Coach, classic Pullman diner and sleeper cars. The most luxurious of the collection is the Piedmont & Northern “Carolina” car, fitted out in brass and mahogany paneling with walnut inlays. The museum started as a private collection but was gifted to the Museum of Greenwood in 2005.
The museum may have been temporarily shuttered by COVID-19, but the work continues with an eye to the future. The exhibits coordinator is working on creating new permanent exhibits with items that have been in storage waiting for their time in the spotlight. “
We have a loom from the textile mills that were here, an 1885 hearse, linotype from the newspaper,” Karen says. The founder of the museum had a large mineral and gem collection, but very little of that has been on display. With three new display cabinets from a jewelry store, those items are finding a new home in the public eye.
The local community is known for supporting Greenwood’s growth and success; that native generosity has been very evident during the difficulties caused by COVID-19. Support from both corporate sponsors and individuals will be crucial in keeping cultural treasures like the Railroad Center on track.