The Crooked Lake Review

Spring-Summer 2007

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Medina Railroad Museum

Offers Much for Visitors


Richard Palmer

MEDINA — A 10-minute walk from the Erie Canal dock in the village of Medina brings visitors to one of the most unique museums in western New York — in a most unlikely place — a former railroad freight house. But it's not just an ordinary freight house. Built in 1905, it is reputed to have been the largest one on the far-flung New York Central System. It is 300 feet long and 34 feet wide. Why so large for such a small town? At the time the place was teeming with industry including a large furniture factory.

Today, it's the home of the Medina Railroad Museum, which itself has a nationwide reputation of being one of the finest of its type in America.

The centerpiece is a large HO gauge model train display 204 feet long and 14 feet wide. Augmenting the seemingly acres of railroad tracks and operating scale model trains are villages, cities, landscapes, rivers and streams, and even a model of the ore docks at Duluth, Minn. with several models of Great Lakes ships waiting to be loaded with taconite ore for transporting to lower Great Lakes ports. There are also models of Erie Canal boats.

Lining the walls are glass cases containing all sorts of railroad-related artifacts including old photos, advertising material, timetables, conductors' uniforms, lanterns and implements. Director and founder Martin C. Phelps said it is the largest collection of artifacts and memorabilia known to exist in this country under one roof. Above the cases are more than 200 firemen's helmets from throughout the country. Phelps said he feels it is also important to preserve the history of firefighting.

The decision to create the museum evolved from Phelps' desire to preserve the many railroad items given to him over the years. He has been a railroad buff since he was nine years old when his father gave him a Lionel train set for Christmas. "From that time on, I was hooked on trains," he said.

Eventually, he moved to Batavia where he was a professional firefighter, and at 65, is still on the active list. In 1973 he built an HO layout in his home measuring 26 by 17 feet. Knowing his interest in trains, friends and neighbors began giving him railroad items. When he started running out of space he said he got the idea of establishing a museum. When he learned that the old Medina freighthouse was for sale, he purchased it in 1991.

Phelps remodeled the second floor as his home and, with the support of many who share the same interest, established the museum which is a non-profit educational institution. The building was restored by a 78-year-old carpenter, and it was opened to the public in April, 1997. Last year, Phelps said, the museum had 48,000 visitors - many of whom were boating, cycling or hiking along the canal and had heard about the museum. "We've had visitors from all over the world," he said.

The museum sponsors periodic train excursions on the Falls Road Railroad between Medina and Lockport throughout the year, starting in May. For further information call 1-585-798-6106. The museum is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Other information is available at The museum is located at 530 West Ave. and annually hosts a two-day child-oriented "Thomas the Tank Engine" event. Phelps also does school programs. His goal is to preserve railroad history and encourage a cognizance and interest in railroading by both young and old.

Martin C. Phelps, director and "conductor" of the Medina Railroad Museum,
next to a scale model of the famous Great Lakes ship "Edmund Fitzgerald"
which sank with all hands on Lake Superior on Nov. 10, 1975.
The replica was "scratch built."
© 2007, Richard Palmer
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