America’s largest railway museum is located in Illinois. A group of passionate volunteers worked for decades to build the Illinois Railway Museum into the rich resource it is today. What began as a preservation project for an interested group of volunteers has evolved into an educational and historic museum for all to enjoy. The Illinois Railroad Museum is made up of a series of buildings, tracks, locomotives, and cars. Where the museum stands today was once a piece of farmland, and it is now among the most significant contributions to railroad history in the US.
The railway museum in Illinois demonstrates the impact the railroad industry had on American workers. Once the largest private employer in the country, the railroad became intertwined with the lives of many. The idea for the museum was conceived in 1941, when one of the largest railways in the Midwest was abandoned. This section of the country was operating some of the most technologically advanced cars at the time and was reluctant to let go of them. During World War II, this high-speed electric car became an important service for local passengers.
When history repeated itself in 1953 and the electric car was no longer needed, preservationists were waiting to begin the process of getting the Illinois Railway Museum started. The not-for-profit organization was established, and enthusiasts began to collect cars that were pieces of history. As the collection grew bigger, a storage location was needed in order to preserve the cars effectively. In 1964, the Illinois Railroad Museum was moved to its current location, where 26 acres became the home to more than 42 cars. Today, exhibits teach visitors of the importance of the railroad to the growth of Illinois and the entire country.
The Railway Museum in Illinois displays its historical collections to the public free of charge. This museum is different from many others in that the artifacts actually move: Streetcars chug along, and steam engines are seen in their normal operating fashion. This activity makes the Illinois Railway Museum especially enjoyable for kids, who get to learn about the railroad in an interactive way. In good weather, visitors can take a ride on a steam or diesel train along a 40-minute picturesque journey. Operating with the assistance of dedicated volunteers with a passion for the railroad, the Illinois Railroad Museum has accomplished its goal of providing a center for education and historic preservation. Admission is free on some days, so it is advisable to consult the museum’s web site and plan ahead.
As the museum is passionate about proper restoration, visitors are sure to see only authentic artifacts at the Railway Museum in Illinois. With a variety of collections from across the Midwest, there is sure to be artifacts for every visitor, whether they are interested in steam locomotives, electric streetcars, or diesel cars. Following a donation from Pullman technologies, the Illinois Railway Museum opened the Pullman Library to display a variety of drawings, photographs, and technical data. Visitors may recognize certain parts of the museum from the film A League of Their Own, which filmed its transportation scenes on the premises.
The museum, located in the city of Union, is a great stop for any visitors who are interested in Illinois history, as are the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield and the Cahokia Mounds. The heartland of America is rich with details about the past, and visitors of all ages are sure to find that a trip to Illinois' historic sites is unforgettable.