The Wilmington Railroad Museum, based in Wilmington, North Carolina highlights the city’s railroading past, which was home to the Atlantic Coast Line (ACL) Railroad (the railroad most featured). If any of you from the Southeast and are old enough to remember passenger trains with purple and silver colors (and gold for trim) this was the ACL railroad. Although I am not too familiar with the ACL I always thought that their colors were one the most stunning, just something different about that livery. Trains still travel in and around Wilmington but today they are operated by CSX Transportation, a company formed through mergers by the ACL and many other railroads, and the Atlantic Coast Line has been gone as an independent, operating railroad since the 1960s. Having visited the Wilmington Railroad Museum once back in the 1990s they do a very nice job for a small organization at keeping alive the city's history with trains.
The history of the Wilmington Railroad Museum began a long time ago and its earliest roots can be traced to 1960. That year, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad elected to move its main headquarters, which had always been based in Wilmington, to Jacksonville, Florida. In doing so the railroad moved more than 1,000 employees by rail, over 450 miles. After this point the large southern Class I had only a minimal presence in Wilmington, save for serving the city's local port. On July 1, 1967 the ACL disappeared forever when it merged with the Seaboard Air Line to form the Seaboard Coast Line system.
The Wilmington Railroad Museum itself had humble beginnings in 1979 by a group of local women who was interested in preserving not only the ACL's history to the city but also southern railroading in general. They started their small museum with just a handful of ACL memorabilia although for several years they had no place to showcase these pieces. That changed in 1983 when they purchased a former ACL office building (built around 1900) in downtown Wilmington. When I visited the museum this was the only building under their direction which by that point included a fairly nice collection of pieces housed inside.
Outside, the museum also had a small collection of freight equipment which included an old steam locomotive (manufactured by Baldwin Locomotive Works it is an original ACL unit, 4-6-0 #250 that saw a lot of use in and around Wilmington), a boxcar (a former Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac 50-footer), and caboose (also of ACL lineage). It would have been great to see the city’s railroad station also preserved but it was torn down long ago. In any event, with the addition of these outdoor pieces the Wilmington Railroad Museum has furthered its goal of keeping alive the South's railroad heritage. In 2007 they were able to nearly double their size when they purchased the ACL's former freight depot built in 1883 also located in Wilmington. It took much work to restore the structure (also built of brick) but it enabled the museum to house much more of their historic rail pieces, which the original building could no longer hold.
Between their two locations one can spend a lengthy amount of time visiting the artifacts and learning about the region's rail history. They have also set up a small model railroad at their new location to entertain the young ones, or anyone with an interest in modeling. It's rather interesting that for such a small operation with such quiet beginnings the Wilmington Railroad Museum has grown into its current size seeing thousands of visitors annually. So, if you are in the area vacationing at a nearby beach (where I can often be found during the summer months) or just would like to check another railroad museum off your list I hope you decide to stop by as its well worth a visit. For more information about the Wilmington Railroad Museum please click here to visit their website.
(My deepest thanks to the Wilmington Railroad Museum's staff, especially Sadie Ann Hood and Bill Bryden, for providing much of the information on this page.)
For more reading about North Carolina railroading I would highly recommend Railroads of North Carolina from author Alan Coleman. Another great book from Arcadia Publishing it covers in detail the Tarheel State’s railroad history, and as with all Arcadia books features over 200 historic photographs. Including in the book are featured all of the state's most famous railroads which along with the ACL include the Southern, Norfolk & Western, and Seaboard Air Line just to name a few. If you have any interest in North Carolina railroading you are sure to enjoy the book! Also, for more information and reading about excursion trains and railroad museums you might want to consider picking up Tourist Trains Guidebook from the editors of Kalmbach Publishing's Trains magazine. The book lists and reviews over 400 excursions and museums found throughout the country and is an excellent resource if you're looking for one to visit. In any event, if you're interested in perhaps purchasing either (or both) of these books please visit the links below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.