W.Va. Railroad Museum shares history, seeks volunteers

The Inter-Mountain photo by Tim MacVean An antique ‘speeder’ is prominently displayed at the West Virginia Railroad Museum, located on the second floor of the Darden Mill building in Elkins. The museum is open 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday throughout October.

ELKINS — The West Virginia Railroad Museum is seeking volunteers to assist in operating the Elkins facility, which has themed exhibits annually and attracts a range of visitors.

“Elkins has so many things that people come to visit, and we do get visitors,” said James “Jim” Schoonover, president of the museum. “But like most operations here in Elkins that are run by volunteers, we are in constant need of volunteers.”

The facility has an AmeriCorps volunteer, Logan McDonald, who Schoonover explained is vital to keeping the doors open.

“As far as monetary resources to pay for a full-time person to man the museum, it is pretty difficult to come by. We’ve been fortunate over the past five years that we have been able to obtain AmeriCorps volunteers,” Schoonover said.

He noted there have been discussions regarding federal funding cuts, which he believes would be detrimental to not only the railroad museum but organizations across the state and country.

“We were really wondering this past year if there would be any AmeriCorps money available this year. We did get funded for another year,” he said. “Should we find out that the AmeriCorps might cease to be, it’s going to be to the detriment of all sorts of nonprofits all over the country, not just here in Randolph County.”

While the museum will close for winter at the end of October, when it reopens in late April, the theme for 2018 will be the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The current exhibit is logging railroading. In years past, themes have included the Western Maryland Railway and Virginia Railway.

The B&O was the first railroad in the United States, and it was founded in 1827, Schoonover said.

“Some of the signers of its original organization agreement also signed the Declaration of Independence,” he said.

Schoonover said the museum’s mission is to educate people on both the railroad and its history.

“Our mission here is to educate. That’s what all museums are supposed to do,” he said. “We want to educate people, we want them to have fun when they come here and we want them to see some things they really don’t see on a regular basis.”

McDonald added the exhibit will look at the history of the B&O Railroad within West Virginia.

“We are going to focus on the building of it; its involvement in the Civil War, because there was a lot of fighting over it in the Civil War; and about its later years, when it expanded throughout the state for coal and lumber hauling,” he said.

Ed Griesel, secretary of the West Virginia Railroad Museum, added he believes it is important to educate youth about the railroad to keep the history alive.

“We are getting older, so we want to teach children about the railway to assist in preserving the history of it,” Griesel said. “We are just trying to preserve the history of railroads in West Virginia.”

Schoonover said even though the museum closes at the end of the month, volunteers would be willing to open for area schools to bring classes and tour the facility. He added they also would visit classroom to share their knowledge of locomotives and railroads.

The West Virginia Railroad Museum came to fruition in 2003, but it did not have a permanent physical location until 2012. That year, the museum shared the first floor of the Darden Mill with the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area Discovery Center while the second floor, its current location, was undergoing renovations.

While a large number of museum members are from West Virginia, more than half are from outside the state, one hailing from as far away as Alaska.

In a fundraising effort, the museum is selling raffle tickets. Prizes include a G-scale Shay locomotive and log cars, G-scale Climax locomotive and 28-by-38-inch sesquicentennial wall hanging quilt. First- and second-place winners will have their choice of prize. The drawing will take place Dec. 20.

To donate to the museum, volunteer or for more information, anyone interested can call 304-637-4810 or email wvrailroadmuseum@gmail.com.

Its hours of operation are 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.