A Permanent Station Home for the Florida Railroad Museum

When the Florida Railroad Museum was founded in 1982, it initially bounced around from one place to another in the Tampa area.  Slowly but surely, as the museum acquired locomotives and rail cars to its collection a permanent home was in order.

In 1992 the museum finally moved to its Manatee County home in Parrish along with a home in Willow which would become the museum’s yard as well as 6.5 miles of railroad track leased to the museum by Florida Power & Light, which bought the track in order for them to maintain rail access to the Manatee Power Plant.  The museum, as part of the lease agreement, maintains this track and in return the museum offers its train rides on the weekends at 11 AM and 2 PM Saturday and Sunday.

When the museum moved into its Parrish home in 1992 and began offering train rides, the ticket office and gift shop was housed in a converted baggage car which was brought down from storage in Willow in the morning and returned to Willow in the evening.  Over the years the Parrish site added some exhibits including the Bradenton sleeping car as well as the BEDT (Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal) steam locomotive, both which are on display at the museum.  A few years ago another rail car was repurposed which became the home of the museum’s model train display.

Now the Florida Railroad Museum is turning another chapter in its history:  After so many years of operating out of a converted baggage car being the home of the ticket office and gift shop, the Florida Railroad Museum has begun construction on a permanent brick-and-mortar station home in Parrish.  According to an article in the Bradenton Herald, the new station home will be 20,000 square feet with a 5,000 square foot freight room/meeting room, ticket office, gift shop sales area and railroad memorabilia.

Having a more permanent station facility in Parrish will make the Florida Railroad Museum look more attractive.  For passengers taking a ride on either the museum’s regularly scheduled train rides or the museum’s special events such as the North Pole Express, passengers can wait until the train is ready to board in climate controlled comfort, out of the elements such as when it rains (remember when the ticket office and gift shop were located on the Parrish siding track and you had to walk a distance to the boarding ramp?).  While inside, passengers can browse through the gift shop as well as take a look at the exhibits that would be housed inside the station building.

Not only a permanent station facility at the Florida Railroad Museum would definitely put Parrish on the map, the goal is to make the museum the go-to location for train rides and special events not only for Manatee County but for the Tampa Bay region as a whole.  Finally, the Florida Railroad Museum would get a more permanent brick-and-mortar home, coming a long way from the days when the ticket office and gift shop were operated out of a converted baggage car.

Now for a side note related to the construction of the Florida Railroad Museum’s new station facility in Parrish, if I can get your undivided attention for just a moment.

Every time I drive on Interstate 75 past the exit for the Florida Railroad Museum at Moccasin Wallow Road (Exit 229, one mile north of the southern terminus of Interstate 275 at Exit 228) I am puzzled as to why there is no signage for the Florida Railroad Museum at Exit 229.  Being one of two official state railroad museums in the State of Florida (the other official state railroad museum, of course, is the Gold Coast Railroad Museum in Miami), I feel its official state railroad museum status undoubtedly qualifies for signage.

When I am talking about signage, I am talking about signage that is on a brown background which, according to the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), is the legend for Recreational and Cultural Interest Signage.  An example can be seen on Interstate 4 at County Line Road (Exit 25) with signage for the Florida Air Museum (an aviation museum located on the grounds of Lakeland Linder Regional Airport in Lakeland) which is well posted utilizing the proper MUTCD background color.  I am not talking about the logo signage you see just before an interchange for gas, food, lodging and attractions; if you see attractions on one of these signs it is a for profit commercial business and, as such, commercial businesses have to pay to have their logos displayed.  After all, the Florida Railroad Museum is not a commercial for profit tourist attraction – the Florida Railroad Museum is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose purpose is Preserving Florida’s Railroad History.

Now that a new permanent brick-and-mortar station building is being constructed in Parrish, the Florida Railroad Museum deserves appropriate signage from Interstate 75 at Exit 229.  There is signage right from US 301, but what good is it if you don’t have signage from a major traffic generator such as Interstate 75?

Here’s an example of what it would look like.  We’ll use southbound Interstate 75 approaching Exit 229 as an example.  This is what the signage looks like now:

Using Microsoft Paint (the image editor that comes with Windows, much cheaper than Adobe Photoshop), I did a treatment of what it would look like with both the Florida Railroad Museum on the brown background and Moccasin Wallow Road on the green background:

Now that the Florida Railroad Museum is getting a more permanent home in Parrish, I think we need to convince the powers-to-be at the Florida Department of Transportation (both at District One in Bartow (FDOT District One covers Southwest Florida including Manatee County) as well as Tallahassee) that the Florida Railroad Museum, one of two official state railroad museums of the State of Florida, deserves signage from Interstate 75.  After all, there is a saying that if you build it, they will come.

One more thing:  The Florida Railroad Museum, despite its official state railroad museum status, does not get any funding from the State of Florida or from Manatee County for its programs and activities.  The Florida Railroad Museum depends on your support, whether it may be paying an admission to ride the train, becoming a member, or donating to help preserve Florida’s railroad history.  Even though the museum is getting a reimbursement from the Manatee County Tourist Development Council for making the station building a reality, the museum still depends on your donations so that Florida’s railroading history can be preserved for generations to come.

If you would like to make a donation to further help make the Parrish station building a reality, you can do so by going to the website of the Florida Railroad Museum and clicking on “Support the Museum”.  There when you make your donation you can have your donation go towards the new Parrish station building.

The Florida Railroad Museum has certainly come a long way.  With a new station building in Parrish, the future of the museum is bright!

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