Saint Albans Museum Announces “Rail City History Project”
St. Albans, Vermont is known affectionately as the “Rail City,” in recognition of the significant influence of the railroad in our region. Since the mid-nineteenth century, rail has connected people, goods, and services from St. Albans with the rest of New England, Canada, and throughout the United States. It impacted and defined various aspects of our local history – including agriculture, socio-economics, politics, business, and transportation…a legacy that remains active today.
The Saint Albans Museum (SAM) is pleased to announce their newest community history initiative, the Rail City History Project. This multi-year effort features a comprehensive plan designed to achieve three primary goals: storytelling, documentation, and exhibition. Staff and volunteers will record interviews from Central Vermont Railway (CVR) veterans and their families through an innovative oral history project. The Museum is also actively seeking new artifacts, documents, images, and other ephemera related to the railroad for loan or to add to their permanent collection. Finally, renovations are planned for the Museum’s existing exhibit, to expand and enhance their ability to share this important aspect of our common heritage with visitors, students, and area residents.
At its peak, the Central Vermont Railroad Company operated almost 800 miles of track across four states, as well as a leased steamship which ran from New London, CT to New York City. The Central Vermont Railway influenced or operated passenger and freight transportation stretching from the port of New York through Boston, Vermont, and southern Canada – all the way to the shores of Duluth, MN on Lake Superior. It was the 7th largest railroad in the United States, guided by founding President (and former Vermont governor) John Gregory Smith.
Many families in St. Albans have a connection to the railroad. Traditionally, it was always one of the largest employers in our community – generations of engineers, mechanics, conductors, administrators, and laborers made their home in Franklin County. The railroad moved commercial goods, agricultural products including milk, butter, and maple, and even people throughout Vermont, as well as to New York state, Montreal, and points beyond.
“We are a witness to the last generation with personal or family connections to the railroad during the height of its influence and power, from the late 1800s-1960s,” said Arthur Bell, Jr, a member of the Rail City History Project Committee. “We need to capture and document this history through stories, pictures, and objects before they are lost to time.”
The Museum has raised over $13,000 in restricted funds for the Rail City History Project, including a $12,500 startup contribution from Bell – whose father worked for the CVR. These donations will allow SAM to conduct a professional oral history program, to develop new educational offerings for local schools, and to implement innovative and interactive new elements as part of the renovated CVR display. Visitors will be able to”‘step back in time” through new audio-visual stations, updated displays, and refreshed historical content generated through the RCHP.
“This is a unique moment for our local history,” said Alex Lehning, Executive Director of the Saint Albans Museum. “We have enthusiastic support from our members and the community. When you combine that with the skills and talents of our dedicated volunteers, as well as significant funding from generous donors, there is a recognition that we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to preserve this vital aspect of our historical identity. Our vision for this project is that it will benefit those who live, work, or study in greater St. Albans.”
The RCHP Committee is comprised of volunteers with decades of experience in the industry, as well as in rail history: Arthur Bell, Jr., Sally Larner, Alex Lehning, Don McFeeters, Charlie Moore, Jim Murphy, and Patty Rainville. With additional involvement from the community, SAM will be able to properly conserve and share the stories that define St. Albans as the ‘Rail City.” If you are interested in contributing to, volunteering for, or becoming a part of the Rail City History Project, please contact SAM at (802) 527-79033 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To celebrate this announcement, SAM is hosing a mixer with the Franklin County Regional Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, June 20 from 5:30-7:30pm. Tickets and more information are available online.
The Saint Albans Museum was founded in 1966, and is a 501-c3 non-profit with a mission to preserve and share the history of St. Albans, Franklin County, and northwestern Vermont through historical exhibitions, educational programs, arts/cultural performances, and special events for all ages and interests.