SOME OF OUR HISTORY...
1. The Beginning
The Texas State Railroad Society (TSRS) was founded in 2011, and awarded 501(c)(3) non -profit status in 2014. Its roots lie in the Friends of the Texas State Railroad, which decided to dissolve after the State of Texas decided to transfer operation of the line from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to a private operator, American Heritage Railways (AHR).
2. Operation from the TSRR Palestine Depot
AHR encouraged the Society to provide support through volunteerism at its events such as the 'Pumpkin Patch', 'A Day Out with Thomas', as well as the Armed Forces Events of 2011 and 2012. AHR also established an Interpretive Center in a room at the Palestine depot. Permission was also given to operate a small gift shop that offered unique items in return for donations. The Interpretive Center provided visitors with information regarding railroading and the nature of the East Texas Piney Woods, light refreshments, and a diversion while waiting for a train departure.
In late summer 2012, operation of the Texas State Railroad was taken over by Iowa Pacific Holdings, a move that promised greater stability for the railroad by the addition of income from less volatile freight operation.
When the Polar Express event was to be run, it was understood and accepted that the TSRS would vacate the room at the Palestine depot to create more vending space for Polar Express items. As a result of a chance conversation between a director of TSRS and an employee of the City of Palestine, we were offered the opportunity to transfer the displays, etc., to a location in Palestine in support of Christmas festivities. So, in 2013, the TSRS supported "Santa's Magical Workshop" at a location on West Oak Street in Palestine. Redundant at the TSR, we felt that our presence would add to the ublicity of the Polar Express, increase local interest in the railroad, and provide entertainment for children and adults whilst waiting to visit Santa.
In January 2014, we were informed that the Interpretive Center at the TSRR’s Palestine depot was to be closed. As a result, the Board felt it had no other option but to seek a home base elsewhere from which to continue our mission of enhancing the experience of the visitor to the Texas State Railroad, and the surrounding area.
3. Operation from Downtown Palestine
We were very fortunate in that 'Main Street Palestine' adopted us as a project, and arranged for us to occupy the Carnegie Library Building (CLB) on a temporary basis. Initially, we would operate a small railroad-related museum, to be available to tourists on days when the TSRR was operating its scheduled trains. While we felt that this was a worthwhile and appropriate activity, we recognized that our mission was lacking; we should be more directly involved with the railroad via activities on site. The Board decided to “freeze” memberships until such time when we would be confident of being able to operate fully in accordance with its mission properly.
During 2014, it became increasingly evident that the basement area (lyceum) and the rooms at stage level, had suffered from the effects of water penetration and lack of air circulation. The CLB had been unoccupied for several years, devoid of significant air movement since the HVAC equipment was inoperable and obsolete.
The TSRS became aware of a local project to recreate Christmas attraction like Santa's Magical Workshop, which would involve the use of the basement area, and a flow of traffic from the basement door to the first floor. If that were to happen, then a thorough cleaning was vital, requiring the removal of sodden material, fallen plaster, etc., and all traces of mold, pestilence, etc. The Christmas project failed to materialize; nevertheless, the whole of the basement level had been thoroughly cleaned and a number of minor repairs made throughout the building by winter 2014.
In November and December of 2014, we provided a number of displays that were devoted to
the infancy of the TSR
locomotives that were built at the International-Great Northern Railroad Shops in Palestine
importance of the Super Power concept in steam locomotive design and the relevance of ex-Texas & Pacific Railroad's 610 that is preserved at TSR's Palestine depot
railroad communications before the introduction of radio, and the effects of failures in the system.
Three separate O-gauge model railroads were constructed. One presents a diorama of the Polar Express, while another, which can be operated by younger visitors, is based on the Friends of Thomas the Tank Engine. The third layout is a collection of rolling stock showing the different railroads that originated or operated in Texas.
The TSRS museum operated throughout 2015, almost every day that the TSRR operated a train, including the Polar Express period. From time to time, heavy rainfall would cause water to leak into the basement and storeroom areas since the guttering and drainpipes were in disrepair. Puddles were removed by mopping, but the biggest influence to stabilizing the moisture situation was the donation of a dehumidifier, which has run almost continuously for more than two years.
In the early months of 2016, all of the defunct air conditioning units were replaced. On July 25, 2016, it was announced that the CLB was to be staffed; three or more employees in City Hall were to relocate their offices there to alleviate the pressure for office space in Palestine's City Hall. Space was created by using the basement for storage, and modifying displays in the 'North Hall' of the CLB to create office space. The TSRS museum continued operating during the transition, but we felt that the joint occupancy was less than ideal, particularly for the City employees.
4. New Opportunities
Although there has never been pressure to move, we felt that the TSRS should explore the possibilities of relocating elsewhere in Palestine. In August, 2016, we were alerted to a failed effort to create a railroad- related recreational park in an area that is occupied by the Visitor’s Center and the Farmers’ Market; we were encouraged to prepare our own proposal for the same area.
The TSRS' concept was based on its current museum principle with a focus on local railroading and its importance. The railroad theme was extended to include amusements in the form of train rides. Whilst enquiring about the requirements of miniature railroads, we were asked if we would be interested in a donation of a large HO-scale layout. After a few meetings, the TSRS was chosen to be the recipient of the model railroad, becoming foundation for the concept. Subsequently, we submitted a proposal to the Palestine City Council for the development of a Rail Yard Park that would include two buildings and surrounding land.
The proposal was accepted by the Council on October 24th.
The lease commenced on December 1, 2016.
This historic stately structure, the Carnegie Library Building (CLB) was built in 1914 with funds from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation that matched the $15,000 raised by the City of Palestine. Carnegie's wealth accrued from investments made while employed with the Pennsylvania Railroad, leading to acquisitions in the steel industry. Much of the steel was used for rolling stock, locomotives and rails; it is, perhaps, appropriate that the CLB has been used for a while to house a railroad-related museum.
Opposite the CLB across Crawford Street is the Redlands Hotel, which, for 30 years, had been the location of the I&GN Railroad's offices. Employees of the railroad would have frequently used the library for education and pleasure
The TSR Society's museum was open every day that the Texas State Railroad operated trains originating in Palestine, from 10 am 'til 5 pm, a minimum of two days a week.
The CARNEGIE LIBRARY BUILDING; our home base for three years