The Rocky Mount Railroad Museum, originally described as the Thomas Edwards Jr. Project, was conceived during the spring of 2009 by Mrs. Joyce Edwards Dantzler in fond memory of her father’s love for model trains. Mrs. Dantzler initially approached city executives with the idea. They were very receptive and felt that the Rocky Mount Imperial Center would be the best location for a display along with other memorabilia and historical and educational railroad information.
Mrs. Dantzler proceeded to establish a committee of local friends and residents who also shared in her interest of placing an interactive display of her father’s model train set in the children’s museum. Everyone who was involved envisioned the display, along with other train sets that would be donated by additional model train collectors, as a major attraction for the museum and the City of Rocky Mount. The opportunity to attract travelers and surrounding county residents to a facility that would explain how beneficial the railroad was to the growth and development of Rocky Mount and by which many citizens were employed was a good thing.
Several meetings were held between the city executives and the Thomas Edwards Jr. Project committee. The committee was informed of what preparatory measures were necessary before the city could move forward on assisting with construction and possibly some financial assistance.
The committee proceeded to restore the equipment to its original luster since the entire set had suffered water damage in the 1999 flood in Rocky Mount. Over several weeks the engines and train cars were cleaned and shined. The workability of all of the pieces would be handled by an experienced restorer at a later date.
In the fall of 2010, Mrs. Dantzler proceeded to acquire a non-profit tax status for the Thomas Edwards Jr. Project with the federal and state governments. The initial documentation was submitted to both agencies. The federal government issued a Federal ID Number for the project in September and the State approved the Articles of Incorporation in December of the same year.
OTHER DEVELOPMENTS OF THE ROCKY MOUNT RAILROAD MUSEUM
In early December, Mrs. Dantzler was informed by Dale Smith of the City of Rocky Mount that a gentleman named Rick Anderson also was interested in developing a railroad museum in the city. Mrs. Smith thought that Mr. Anderson and Mrs. Dantzler should put their heads together and continue with the project, independent of the city.
Mrs. Dantzler contacted Mr. Anderson; they met on December 6, 2010, and immediately agreed to proceed with establishing the Rocky Mount Railroad Museum on the character of the Thomas Edwards Jr. Project. Ron and Hillarie Vetere, owners of the Bel Air Artisans Center, offered Mr. Anderson the second floor of that building to house the Rocky Mount Railroad Museum as soon as the museum completed the build-out and designs.
Local train enthusiasts, railroad employees, city executives, and prospective financial contributors were contacted and invited to an introductory/get acquainted meeting on January 15, 2011. Those who attended were given a tour of the location and were very excited with the prospect of Rocky Mount having a railroad museum, especially since the closest ones are several hours drive from Rocky Mount.
In an effort to gain a greater knowledge of building designs and project development, Mr. Anderson and Mrs. Dantzler accepted design recommendations and renderings from a group of design majors from East Carolina University and they also met with other community organizations such as the Princeville NC Tourism Development Advisory Council and the Rocky Mount “Around the Wye” Community. The design team’s renderings of layouts and furnishings were very innovative and would draw attention to the museum and its displays. The “Wye” Community Brochure explained how they celebrate the rich heritage of the local residents who worked at the former Atlantic Coast Line Emerson Shops and the Roundhouse. Many of the former employees continue to reside near the shops. When they were flourishing, the shops and the roundhouse were enclosed within a wire fence; hence the name, the “Wye” Community. The Princeville Museum demonstrated how beautifully a historical building could be restored using most of its original structure. Several developmental ideas for the museum began to flourish between Mr. Anderson and Mrs. Dantzler after their contacts with these groups and organizations.
The Rocky Mount Railroad Museum received its 501 (c) (3) Non-Profit Tax Exemption Status effective December 13, 2010. The Board Members of the museum at that time were: Joyce Edwards Dantzler, President, Gene Pridgen, Vice President, Patricia Wiggins, Secretary, and Ronald Hines, Treasurer. The museum e-mail address is email@example.com.
The museum continues to move forward with innovative ways to connect with the community and to encourage the community’s tax deductable financial support and memberships. The museum has looked at several locations to house the museum trains, artifacts, gift shop, conference room, library and children’s train room. In the interim, all correspondence may be directed to the museum’s Post Office Box 94, Rocky Mount, NC 27802, the above e-mail address, or 252-314-7811.
The Golden East Mall in Rocky Mount invited the museum to setup an operational train display and other artifacts during the 2011 Christmas Holidays. Many wide eyed children and adults were seen smiling and admiring the trains as they rolled around the tracks through scenes of a city and the countryside.
The Rocky Mount Railroad Museum (RMRRM) received permission from Amtrak to host Rocky Mount’s First Amtrak National Train Day Event on Saturday, May 12, 2012, at the Rocky Mount Train Station from 10:00 A.M. until 2:00 P.M. Activities, games, prizes, and puppet shows were available for the children. Adults enjoyed: skits from an upcoming local play, “Letters from Laura,” a tour of the historic train passenger car on display at the train station, and the opportunity to purchase such products as model trains, hanging baskets and plants, and wood crafts and pottery that were for sale by the participating vendors. Also on that day, the Whistle Stop Gift Shop and Café located in the train station, honored its 20% off of food coupons that were picked up or downloaded prior to guests’ arrival to the National Train Day Event. Barbecue dinner plates also were available.
The Golden East Mall in Rocky Mount again invited the museum to setup an operational train display and other artifacts during the 2012 Christmas Holidays. The Christmas Theme remained, but additional displays added a delight to all who stopped to view the exhibit, to accept membership and donation requests, and to pick up handouts from The North Carolina Operation Lifesaver Organization about safety precautions around railroad tracks and trains.
The museum celebrated its first Annual Banquet and Auction on April 13, 2013, at the Hunter Hill Café in Rocky Mount, NC. The event was well advertised and “Boarding Passes,” for the meal, sold well. The speaker was Doug Riddell, a retired locomotive engineer who worked out of Rocky Mount for several years before returning to his home state of Virginia. Mr. Riddell is also the author of the book, “From the Cab: Stories from a Locomotive Engineer” published in 1999. He is now retired and continues to write narratives on railroading. Memberships for the museum were strongly petitioned to enable the museum to financially move forward at a faster and more productive pace.
The Annual Amtrak Train Day on May 11, 2013 is the latest event in which The Rocky Mount Railroad Museum has participated. The museum was the host in Rocky Mount for Amtrak. Operational model trains were on display, a 50/50 Raffle, children’s games, handouts from the North Carolina Operation Lifesaver Organization, and vendors were just a few of the functions that were available. The museum had just as great a turnout this year as in 2012 since the community is now familiar with The Amtrak National Train Day.
The Rocky Mount Railroad Museum has begun developing a Website which, just to mention a few things, will allow train enthusiasts, supporters, and corporations nationally and internationally to connect with the museum. They will have the opportunity to enjoy viewing the pictures and videos on the site, to keep up with event dates, and to browse over historical information about the museum. The website will also allow the public to join with the museum in a financial way by making donations through this venue.
The Rocky Mount Railroad Museum, upon its construction, will carry on to become one of the most educational and entertaining places in which to stop along the corridors of the North to South Interstate 95 and the East to West North Carolina Highway 64. People will be able to enjoy and to learn historical facts about trains, to view models in operation, and to discover contributions made by the railroad industry to the city of Rocky Mount, the surrounding areas and the employment of numerous local and area citizens.