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The Historic Railpark and Train Museum

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With nearly 100 years of history in the heart of Bowling Green, and 14 years as a local visitors attraction, The Historic RailPark and Train Museum is central to so much of the area’s history and growth and while the COVID era has slowed tourism somewhat, it hasn’t stopped the enduring mission of the RailPark to preserve history and educate future generations.

The L&N Depot building of today was built in 1925 and operated until 1979 and is actually the third depot in Bowling Green. The fi rst burned during the Civil War and a makeshift replacement was built before the current structure was erected. But the rail line almost didn’t even go through Bowling Green.

“If it was not for the citizens of Bowling Green pulling together the necessary financial resources just before the Civil War, the L&N rail line would have run through Glasgow, Kentucky,” Executive Director Jamie Johnson says. “Simply put, Bowling Green would not be the city it is today without the L&N railroad. We are the very roots of this community and believe our mission is critical to the future success and continued growth of our community.”

The Historic RailPark and Train Museum opened as a tourist attraction to the public in 2007, after Operation Pride worked to restore the facility. Friends of the L&N Depot was formed to setup a non-profit that would create the attraction as we know it today, typically hosting 50,000 visitors a year to the museum for tours, museum events, and private rentals for weddings and parties. The Warren County Downtown Economic Development Authority currently owns the property and Friends of L&N Depot are the managing group of the property. Johnson says that the RailPark hosts both local residents and out-of-town visitors, as well as school groups.

“Although there are many other train museums across the country, and even in Kentucky, we are unique in that we boast eight vintage railcars that have been restored or are under renovation and these cars are open to the public for tours,” Johnson says.

“These railcars are costly to repair, and many museums simply cannot maintain their cars to keep them in tour-ready condition.”

The L&N Depot currently employs eight people, with plans to add more employees during the approaching busy season. Jamie Johnson became Executive Director in 2014 after spending 20 years in the media business industry and is passionate about history preservation. More than two dozen volunteers also give of their time on a consistent basis, but Johnson says they are always looking for more people who want to partner with the organization as volunteers.

“We pride ourselves on being able to put most any volunteer talent to use,” Johnson says. “Whatever your talent, talking on the phone, hands-on restoration, project management or you simply have the gift of gab, we have a spot for you at our museum.”

Johnson also says the time commitment for volunteers is very flexible and can be as much as daily or as minimal as a few times per year for special events. Private donations, tours and special event revenue make up the budget to continue the work of The Historic RailPark and Train Museum.

“We now use a yearlong fundraising and marketing campaign with a specific focus,” Johnson says. “This year we introduced our 2021 Birthday Club campaign which focuses on the anniversary and milestones of many of our railcars. We are asking the community to donate $20 to join the Birthday Club and with that donation they choose a keepsake Christmas ornament that depicts one of our railcars.”

Several signature events happen at the RailPark throughout the year, including Romance at the RailPark, Sip & Putt Mini Golf Scramble, Haunted Lantern Tours and the extremely popular Polar Express Storytime each Christmas season.

Johnson says community partnership, by both individuals and organizations, is imperative in helping the RailPark be successful, from individuals volunteering, donating and bringing out of town guests to organizations coming alongside the RailPark to ensure success of several key events.

“When we work with other organizations, we allow them to do what they are good at and in turn, we do what we are good at and we believe that is how you are a good partner,” Johnson says. “In 2017, we received an award because of our many partnerships. We work with other attractions to create tour experiences for groups of all sizes like our Planes, Trains and Automobiles tour. We recently worked with Fountain Square Players to be a part of our Romance at the RailPark and we partner with Kiwanis Club of Bowling Green each year during our Polar Express event.”

Despite the diffi culty of a pandemic, the RailPark opened Phase 2 of a new “Railroads Go to War” exhibit, which highlights the role of women during World War II, last fall and Phase 3 of the exhibit will be unveiled this year. They museum also continues the ongoing work of restoring train cars and protecting the train cars from weather deterioration, which is essential for the future of the museum.

“The continued preservation of our railcars and the building is absolutely critical to the success of the organization,” Johnson says. “You can drive by any old depot and see an old, rusty railcar just about anywhere, but what we have here is a real jewel of the community and a place that the citizens of Bowling Green can be proud to show off. Future generations must know where they came from and what their grandparents and great-grandparents worked so hard to build. Our facility offers an experience for families to truly step back in time and create a memory.”

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