MD Gaithersburg Community Museum

Fascinating and Historic Gaithersburg
Fun and Educational Adventure for Children and Adults
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In 1765 this place was an agricultural area known as "Log Town." In time, that name shifted to Gaithersburg, after a local landholder and businessman, Benjamin Gaither. He operated a store that included the Forest Oak Post Office, which was named for a large tree in town. This tree, which fell down in 1997, was the inspiration for the city's current logo and flag.

So much has changed since the nineteenth century! Now Gaithersburg is the fourth largest incorporated city in Maryland, after Baltimore, Frederick, and Rockville. It's the location of major employers, such as NIST and IBM. Its historic downtown, known as "Olde Towne," features many historic buildings, including the train station complex. Would you like to learn more about the story of Gaithersburg?

Railroad History:  Gaithersburg grew, especially around the B&O railroad station built in 1884 and designed by Ephraim Francis Baldwin who designed so many ornate railroad stations in Maryland. The station featured two buildings: the main Station House and a Freight House. They were purchased by the city in 1984 and refurbished, winning preservation awards and being designated in the National Register of Historic Places. The Station House continues in use today, including a MARC Train ticket counter, a coffee-shop, and a waiting room. The Freight House has been repurposed as the Gaithersburg Community Museum (see below), which includes rolling stock outside (steam engine, caboose, and commuter rail car). The museum features dynamic and interactive exhibits and photos showing off Gaithersburg's past. Step outside, and you will be able to connect the historical pictures of the past with Gaithersburg's modern present. This museum is not only appropriate for children, but adults find it fascinating, and there are some great places for little kids to play. This museum weaves it's learning magic in partnership with the Gaithersburg Historical Association.
(Click here to jump down to see the museum and the trains.)

Astronomy History:  The historic Gaithersburg Latitude Observatory is little known today outside of Gaithersburg, but in its day it was part of a brave international scientific project to measure wobble in the earth's polar axis of rotation, and the findings of the project are relevant even today for navigation and GPS. In 1899 it was established as one among six observatories in different countries around the world at the same latitude (i.e., distance from the north pole). After a distinguished career, it was decommissioned in 1982, because automation made human observation no longer necessary. In 1989 the observatory and grounds were designated in the National Register of Historic Places. Today it is owned by the city and operated for the benefit and learning of its citizens.
(Click here to go to the Gaithersburg Latitude Observatory page.)

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The Gaithersburg Community Museum

View of museum as you approach it from across the tracks
View of museum as you approach it from the street

Originally this building, located right by the tracks, was used for storing freight hauled on the B&O Railroad. It has now become the nucleus of the Gaithersburg Community Museum, a resource for the whole family, and the whole community. Note that this transportation and history museum includes both the Freight House and also the rolling stock (train cars on rails) behind the Freight House.

The Gaithersburg Community Museum, along with the Gaithersburg Latitude Observatory (see below) are overseen by Nansie Wilde, Community Facility Manager, who works hard to keep Gaithersburg history alive.

View of museum as you approach it from the street

With today's Gaithersburg and today's railroad right outside the door, this museum offers educational and entertaining exhibits and programs to explore the long history of the city and railroad. Like any good museum it offers a museum shop, and is attractive to both adults and children to learn. You can see Nansie Wilde (in red) near the door explaining the museum to a visitor. The exhibits include a historic school room, a Gaithersburg bank, and a store with historic merchandise on exhibit. This is a fun place for visitors of all ages,.
(Click here to see some of the museum's hands-on and interactive displays guaranteed to spark interest and imagination.
And also — you definitely will want to visit the museum's Facebook page for the schedule of special events held in the museum, such as Storytime Station for young kids, and Museum After Hours for adults.

Placeholder for Lottes and Wilde making plans

This museum does not rest on its laurels, but continuously plans new educational and interesting opportunities to offer to the public. Here Ms. Wilde and her Program Coordinator Karen Lottes are working on planning an exciting new program, having just finished running the highly successful Gaithersburg Eclipse Party at the Gaithersburg Latitude Observatory (see the telescope exhibit immediately below).

View historic telescope

One of the most recent exhibits is this historic telescope, which was part of an international scientific study to measure the precession (wobble) of earth's polar axis of rotation. This is the original telescope used in the Gaithersburg Latitude Observatory. The telescope was moved to a NASA facility, before returning home to Gaithersburg to be viewed in this wonderful museum.
Click here to get in your car and visit the grounds of the Gaithersburg Latitude Observatory not too far a drive from the museum. You might also be interested in the evening "Skywatching" programs at the Observatory.

View of caboose from platform next to museum

Right outside the backdoor of the museum is this Bay Window caboose, the C&O #904152 Chessie Class C-27A, made by the Fruit Growers Express company in the early 1980s. After it was retired functionally as a caboose, it played a part in promoting railroad safety. Now that it is parked by the museum, this caboose isn't just for admiring from the outside, but you and your children can go inside, where it's always playtime.
Click here to join the kids inside the caboose.

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View of Budd Car from the platform next to museum

Ironically, the caboose is not the end of the rolling-stock. Right behind the caboose is the museum's Budd Car, which was a self-propelled diesel powered commuter car made by the historic Budd Company. This car carried commuters, for example to work and back, and the seats could be flopped from sitting in one direction to sitting in the other direction for the return trip, without having to turn around the train. These trains were used for short inter-city routes, but also sometimes for somewhat longer routes. Click here to enjoy a guided tour of the inside of the Budd Car, led by Louise Bradford. When you visit the museum, she would be happy to take you or your group on your own guided tour. There are also scheduled programs held in here, including Museum After Hours: check the museum's Facebook page for the schedule of the varied and interesting special events, such as movie night with a scary train theme.

Side view of steam engine from little city park next to museum
Front View of steam engine

Nestled cozily between the Station House and the Freight House museum is the lovely little Gaithersburg History Park, which features plaques explaining Gaithersburg history and peonies from the garden of the Schwartz family, which lived in what is now City Hall.

When you visit this park, you get a great view of the steam engine parked next to the museum. Sadly, you cannot climb aboard it, but you can examine it closely by the side of the track, and appreciate that muscular looking machine. This steam engine, the #14, was manufactured by Alco-Schenectady in 1918 as an 0-8-0 engine, meaning it had no front or back wheels to stabilize it, but it did have eight drive wheels; early in its life it was refitted with two front wheels, making it a 2-8-0 engine. The Buffalo Creek & Gauley Railroad acquired the engine in 1950 to haul coal.
Click here to get a better view of this engine's hulking muscles and mighty wheels.

Sign for Java Junction coffee shop

If all that adventure gets you and your children hungry, you can go to Java Junction for tasty sandwiches in the Station House, and then eat and rest in the historic train passenger waiting room.

View of new Gaithersburg platform on other side of rails from museum

From the door of the Gaithersburg Community Museum you can look out see the Gaithersburg Olde Towne of today as well as the railroad of today! As you and the whole family explore the interactive exhibits, you can hear the CSX and Amtrak rumbling past the museum. Local history is full steam ahead.
All Aboard!

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RR Railroad Journeys

Railroad Journeys

Big steam engine viewed from the front and looking antique

I have always loved railroads, especially riding them. I also love to look at model railroads, with tiny trains busy running through tiny rail stations and tiny villages and landscapes. One of my early memories is being entranced by the giant locomotives at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, and being frustrated at not being allowed to climb on board this engineer’s heaven. At one period of time, I rode the B&O Railroad to work, which later became the MARC System. I took my son on rides on the commuter train, and we visited the Railroad Store at Union Station in Washington, DC.

As with other subjects in this website, I am currently restricting myself to the Washigton, DC area. This does not, however, limit me too much in this area, where there is a lot of railroad activity and railroad history. I am dividing Railroad World into four parts:

Happy Railroading!

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Railroad Museums
Visit the Photo Gallery for the B&O Museum.
Visit the Photo Gallery for the Gaithersburg Community Museum.

B&O Railroad Museum — I first discovered railroad museums at the B&O Railroad Museum, located in Baltimore, MD. The B&O Museum is quite well known, and it also has a Facebook page, and unlike my experience at the Smithsonian, kids (and I) are able to climb into the cabs of locomotives and scramble about inside cabooses. It was originally called the Baltimore and Ohio Transportation Museum when it opened in 1953, it has been called one of the most significant collections of railroad treasures, including its collection of 19th century locomotives.

Gaithersburg Community Museum — Gaithersburg, Maryland has had a B&O Railroad Station since 1884, designed by the famous Ephraim Francis Baldwin, who designed so many of the neo-Victorian train stations in Maryland. This two building complex included a Station Building and a Freight Building, which were purchased by Gaithersburg and refurbished in the 1980s. The Freight House is now repurposed as the Gaithersburg Community Museum, dedicated to preserving and teaching about Gaithersburg history, including railroad history. Just outside the Freight House is rolling stock (railroad cars on tracks), which are maintained as part of the museum experience both for adults and their children.

Fairfax Station Railroad Museum — Another local railroad museum is in Virginia, called the Fairfax Station Railroad Museum. I have not had a chance to visit it yet, but it is on my to-do list. This museum was originally a railroad center of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad established in 1854, which played an important role during the Civil War.

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Riding the Rails

Everyday Rides — I love riding trains, especially old-time steam locomotives. In the past, I occasionally had to commute to meetings in Philadelphia and New York City, and always rode the Amtrak train, because I could get a regular seat that was as good or better than first class on a plane. Also, if you would like to ride into Washington, DC, then you might be interested in riding the MARC commuter train down to Union Station, from which you can catch the Metro to most attractions. But, I’m not talking here about riding a train to get somewhere, but rather just for the experience of riding history.

Trolley Museum — One exciting opportunity is the National Capital Trolley Museum, where you can ride a variety of trolley cars around a wooded area. I actually remember the one that ran in the Washington, DC area, and riding it again is so nostalgic. The National Capital Trolley Museum is quite well know locally. Also, it has a Facebook page.

Old-time Rides — The B&O Museum also features an opportunity to ride the rails, called the Mile One Express. I have not yet ridden this train, but it sounds like fun.
There are also three other railroad rides somewhat further afield. They are:

Kids' Trains — For kids of all ages there is a train at Wheaton Regional Park, off of Georgia Avenue, and another kid train in the Cabin John Park near Tuckerman Lane.

Riding the kids train in Wheaton Regional Park

I’m not a kid anymore, but something about riding the kids train brings out the kid in me … 🙂

Here I was riding the kids train in Wheaton Regional Park.

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Model Railroads

I am always intrigued by model railroads running through realistic scenery and railway stations. They can be bewitching to your imagination. One of the leading local railroad modelers is the Baltimore Society of Model Engineers, which formed in 1932, and which features some spectacular layouts. They feature monthly open houses to promote model railroading.

My friend Howard is active in the Sykesville modeling club, known as the Sykesville and Patapsco Railway. Howard has a current project of creating a model of a Civil War era iron furnace, which helped to denude the lands all around Sykesville at the time. Also, Howard’s son Sol is active in a modelers blog-site known as the Newport Central: An adventure in Urban N Scale.

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Railroad Games

Among my favorite games to play are the “Ticket to Ride” series by Alan R. Moon, in which each player tries to build the biggest and best rail system while blocking opponents’ routes. You can get an American version, several European versions, Asian versions, etc.. Below is a picture of Ticket to Ride in action … you can almost feel the palpable tension and excitement as railroad empires come alive.

Howard and Susan playing Ticket to Ride game

Here, my friends Howard and Susan, who are Ticket to Ride railroad moguls, plot their strategies to dominate Asian rails.

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