This article first appeared in the Atlanta NRHS newsletter The “Hot Box,” in May, 1979. Its author, George Weber, served as The “Hot Box” editor for 30 years and holds a unique perspective on the museum’s development.
A primary reason for the founding 20 years ago and continuous existence of the Atlanta Chapter, National Railway Historical Society is the development and preservation of a museum of historic railway equipment. A brief history of this museum follows, with emphasis upon locations.
Lakewood Park Display
Atlanta’s railroad museum was dedicated in October 1958 — prior to the Chapter’s formation, and was first named “Cinderama.” This museum was located in Lakewood Park — a few blocks from I-75/85 south of Atlanta — near one of the Southeastern Fair exhibit buildings. Upon formation in 1959, Atlanta Chapter, NRHS administered the Park’s “Southeastern Transportation Museum” on behalf of the city of Atlanta. This involved maintaining the equipment on hand that had been donated to the city, and extending the museum to accommodate additional equipment given to the Chapter.
The Lakewood Park facility of the museum hosted numerous visitors during the annual Southeastern Fairs of 1958-1964 (10-day period in Sept. or Oct.) It was open during specific weekend hours throughout the balance of the year, or by special arrangement at other times. All maintenance and staffing (hosting) of the exhibits was done by Atlanta Chapter members.
The Lakewood display could only hold six statically-displayed items of equipment on two parallel fenced-in tracks, but the Chapter’s museum collection continued to grow through subsequent donations which were stored on leased trackage in Atlanta. Clearly the need had arisen for a permanent museum site: (1) large enough for static display of Atlanta Chapter’s entire collection, (2) also suitable for partial operation, and (3) connected to nearby rail lines. In 1965, all rail museum equipment at Lakewood Park was moved out and put in storage pending development of such a site.
To aid the promotion of its Lakewood museum primarily and its excursions, Atlanta Chapter published in 1964 “An Introduction to N.R.H.S. Atlanta” with text and photos.
Site Near Duluth
On March 8, 1966, the Southern Railway generously donated to the Atlanta Chapter-NRHS the present 12-acre site for a museum, for which the Chapter is indeed grateful. This site, now with controlled rail access to Southern’s Atlanta-Washington, D.C., mainline, is near the junction of US 23 (Buford Highway) and Berkeley Lake Road about two miles south of Duluth in Gwinnett County and 23 miles northeast of Atlanta.
A topographic survey was completed by a few Chapter members shortly after the donation of the land. This survey was prepared for the Engineering Department of the Southern for their use in working out a track plan with acceptable grade. A master development plan was also compiled.
In the spring of 1969, grading of the property was completed. Over 70,000 cubic yards of earth were moved to level the site. By May of 1970, a chain link fence enclosed the property and Chapter members were laying rail inside the fence. On July 11, 1970 the first items of Chapter equipment were moved into our museum site. Security lights were soon installed.
Progress in the further development of the Atlanta Chapter’s “Southeastern Railway Museum” has continued. Additional trackage has been laid to accommodate almost all of the Chapter’s large collection (some items not at the museum are used on excursions). The grounds have been landscaped, drainage provisions installed, and some equipment restored. Excavation for the turntable pit is underway.
A three-car complex (with electricity and running water) houses the visitor center, restrooms, museum office and telephone, and living accommodations for the regular museum crew. Another car houses the growing museum library. Limited operations on cleared trackage are made.
When completed, the museum will have an operating turntable and roundhouse as well as a yard for equipment display and a depot to handle passengers riding our equipment on the 1/2-mile loop within the museum fence. A shop is also planned on the site.
A railroad museum for the Atlanta area is most appropriate because this city was born as a railroad terminus. Further museum development is essential to the preservation of the Atlanta Chapter, NRHS’ historic rail equipment collection.