ABOUT RAILROAD CITY
A CROSSROADS OF INDUSTRY & CULTURE: ALTOONA AS A RAILROAD METROPOLIS
Altoona—known as Railroad City to some—was established in the year 1849. The canals of western Pennsylvania were quickly becoming antiquated modes of transportation. The short-lived combination of artificial waterways and inclined planes was coming to an end. Meanwhile, the far-seeing founders of the Pennsylvania Railroad, chartered in 1846, were laying track into the rugged Allegheny Mountains. By 1850, the PRR completed its westward terminal at Altoona to enhance its growing enterprise. Early Altoona was a town in the making. Dotted with clapboard buildings, laundry lines, picket fences, towering brick churches, and telegraph poles—the railroad had a presence everywhere. The PRR was responsible for the city's infrastructure and constructed or sponsored most of the community's civic pillars: schools, libraries, and hotels. It was the essence of a company town and remained so for over a century.
Tried by the fires of progress, the struggles of labor, and the tests of world wars, the railroad shops at Altoona were celebrated as the "Standard of the World." Such prestige diminished following the dramatic economic and industrial changes of post-World War II America—hurling railroaders into a constant ebb of uncertainty. Following the disappearance of the Pennsylvania Railroad, subsequent chapters of industrial history were made in the city by Penn Central, Conrail, Norfolk Southern, and Amtrak.
ABOUT THE MUSEUM
AN INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE: INTERPRETING GENERATIONS OF RAILROADERS
The Railroaders Memorial Museum seeks to preserve the stories and contributions of Central Pennsylvanians who left an imprint on their communities, industry, and nation. Museum displays include a rich array of artifacts, immersive environments, and life size dioramas of railroad workers performing various tasks typical of the Altoona Shops. Various orientation films present colorful context of the people and lifestyles that composed the city's railroading community. A well-stocked gift shop and digital database serves as additional amenities for the visiting public.
First opened in 1980, the museum relocated in 1998 to the Pennsylvania Railroad's former Master Mechanic's Building. Constructed in 1882, the structure was used for a century of railroad operations. Initially, the railroad's physical and chemical laboratories were housed here. In subsequent years, the building was used for medical offices, storage, and railroad police headquarters—which included an indoor firearms range in the basement. The Master Mechanic's Building is the sole survivor of Altoona's Machine Shops. The site stands as a stunning example of railroad architecture and a monument to the individuals who built it.
ABOUT THE ROUNDHOUSE
HOUSING HISTORY: STORING, RESTORING, & PRESERVING ICONIC ROLLING STOCK
When the Railroaders Memorial Museum opened the Master Mechanics Building, it became apparent that a facility was needed to care for the Museum's growing collection of rolling stock. The Museum embarked on the design of a quarter-roundhouse to provide a place for restoration, maintenance, and secure exhibition. The first pie-shaped wedge of the building was completed in summer 2002. Additional funding was secured in 2007 and 2010 to complete the building and house the Museum's most prized possession, Pennsylvania Railroad K-4 Locomotive #1361.
The facility was funded by Robert Bennett, a generous Museum patron from Los Angeles, as a tribute to his grandfather, William Henry "Harry" Bennett. Harry served as the first foreman of the newly constructed Juniata Locomotive Shops in 1889. Promoted to master mechanic in 1901, he oversaw the construction of K-4 #1361 as well as over 6,000 other locomotives and the construction of the East Altoona Roundhouse. Harry Bennett held the position of master mechanic until 1921, longer than anyone else had. The Harry Bennett Memorial Roundhouse features a working 105-foot turntable, indoor storage bays, and outdoor storage spurs to display and interpret the Museum's rolling stock collection.
THE RAILROADERS CALLBOARD
RESEARCHING THE PAST: DISCOVERING & UTILIZING OUR RAILROADER DATABASE
This interactive database contains approximately 19,200 railroaders, profiling 170 years of service and spanning four railroads. In the past, visitors sent hard-copy submissions to volunteers for cataloging. Today, the electronic process is readily available. Anyone can utilize the search engine and add additional text if a profile is non-existent or incomplete, such as a railroaders full name, job(s), years of service, company name(s), and much more.