Sunday, November 20, 2011

New Railroad and Tooling Museum Coming to Meadville!

Finally, the Conneaut Lake/Meadville area will have a museum to pay tribute to the area's rich history!

From the Meadville Tribune:

November 18, 2011

Site selected for Railroad and Tooling Heritage Center

By Ryan Smith
Meadville Tribune
MEADVILLE — The best museums, according to Ed Cronin, are those that present a true sensory experience: Sights, sounds, things to touch and smell ... and taste.

He said he’s spent a fair share of time thinking about how to incorporate that last one into the Meadville area’s industrial history-on-display at the planned Northwestern Pennsylvania Railroad and Tooling Heritage Center. The answer — a “ ‘Eureka’ moment,” he said — came to him over his morning cereal on Thursday: A chocolate chip cookie for every person who walks through the door.

Turns out that a little over a century ago, the 150 or so employees of one Meadville manufacturer — the Trowbridge Chocolate Chip Co. — were making and shipping around three tons of those sweet little confections every single day, to New York City, Chicago and points in between, by way of Meadville’s rail system.

With the news unveiled Thursday, Cronin and other Railroad and Tooling Heritage Center planners have some time to ponder such particular questions. At a special news conference, the center’s board, joined by the Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County and the Northwestern Pennsylvania chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association, announced the years-in-the-planning center has been given a site to call home.

The EPA has donated a 1.5-acre Bessemer Street parcel — identified in a 2010 feasibility study as an ideal location — for the development of the center. Part of the EPA-owned former 84 Lumber property, the property fronts on the French Creek Parkway and is near the former sites of an Erie Railroad roundhouse and train station, a locomotive service and repair facility, and the Erie Railroad’s original 1865 Atlantic & Great Western shops, officials said.

Fundraising and planning for the center — previously estimated to be a roughly $6 million project — have been in the works by a local volunteer-run nonprofit group for around the last seven years, according to Cronin. With the site now dedicated, plans can be further developed for the 24,000-square-foot building housing the center, which is envisioned as a showcase of Crawford County’s storied railroad and tooling and manufacturing histories as well as a place to highlight the importance of other modern, state-of-the-art local industries.

“The gifting of this land came at a perfect time for our project and we greatly appreciate the Alliance’s generosity, belief in our project and support of our efforts,” said Cronin.

The group, which has previously raised and received donations and grants totaling more than $103,000, was also presented a $20,000 donation on Thursday by Tammy Adams, executive director of the local NTMA chapter.

The group’s goal for the first phase of the project, which would establish half of the center building and an endowment fund for ongoing operational costs, is set at $2.5 million, said Cronin. Current efforts include embarking on a fundraising capital campaign that will gauge the interest and enlist the assistance of a variety of area philanthropic groups, organizations and individuals, Cronin said. A total of 50 potential donors are in the process of being privately interviewed by the group’s professional planning consultant, he said.

A full-scale public fundraising campaign is expected to be launched in 2014, said Cronin.

Plans for the center include putting massive, vintage railroad engines and rail cars on permanent display as well as the complete outlay of a Meadville machining pioneer, Foriska Tool Shop. The entire shop (the former Davenport Manufacturing Co. that began operations on East College Street in the early 1900s) has been preserved by the Foriska family and donated to the center, and is planned to be moved to the museum’s site once the center’s physical development is under way, according to organizers.

Other items set to be part of the center include a Talon zipper machine, display cases with artifacts and gaging (tool and die) tools, machine tools, a Talon apprentice bench and tools and draft table used from the 1940s through the 1960s.

The group is hopeful that the center’s construction will begin sometime in 2013, and, “with any luck,” completed and opened to the public in 2015.

Asked how he feels about that news, Dennis Mead, president of the Erie-Lackawanna Historical Society, said, “I can put it into a few easy words: I can’t wait.”

“We have a great deal of history to show,” he said, but “with no place to put it” before. The center’s board is doing “some phenomenal work on this project,” he added.

Ryan Smith can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at