History of the Railroad and Tooling Museum

The establishment of a Railroad and Tooling Museum came from the bylaws of the French Creek Valley Railroad Historical Society (FCV) written in 1996. The project began in earnest in the summer of 2004. Members Larry Smith and Nelson Pattison produced drawings of the proposed site, Pomona Park, and building and Perry Douglass from Strollo Architects donated his time to produce a series of building options and drawings that we used to produce a model of the building.

In 2005 the Railroad Historical Society was approached by members of the Northwestern Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA). Their project, The Greater Meadville Tooling Museum, was being evicted from its current location. They needed space and wanted to partner with FCV. An agreement was reached and in the late spring of 2005 the two organizations met with State Senator Bob Robbins. Senator Robbins supported the concept but felt the project needed both state and federal support. He set up a meeting which took place in the early fall of 2005 with staff from our state and federal representatives. Over the summer of 2005 the Crawford County Historical Society (CCHS) and the Crawford County Convention & Visitors Bureau CCC&VB) also became partners in the project. Thanks to the efforts of FCV members Larry Smith, Pete Gifford and his daughter Jennifer, a PowerPoint presentation was created. Click here to download the Railroad and Tooling Museum PowerPoint.

The presentation was well received by the congressional staffers. They recommended promoting the project to the community to build support, and conducting a feasibility study. In 2006 the museum was incorporated in Pennsylvania as a non-profit corporation and in 2007 was recognized by the IRS as a public charity (501c3). Thanks to the efforts of Maryann Martin, our Financial Director, we were the recipient of several grants in 2008. One grant allowed us to have site engineering done to determine how the museum would fit into the Pomona Park site. The attached drawing was one of three possible
configurations for the site.

PCE Pamona Park Drawing

A second grant and the largest was from the Pennsylvania First Industries Grant Program. This grant allowed us to contract for a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment of the property, a feasibility study of the site, a business plan for the project and site engineering drawings with building renderings. The Environmental Assessment was completed and the results looked good, however early into the feasibility study, it was determined that the Pomona Park site would be too small for the project.

Another potential site for the museum was the former 84 Lumber property. Our consultants agreed it would be far superior to the Pomona Park site, so we filed for and received a change of scope request with the state so we could use our grant money to evaluate the 84 Lumber property. It was 9.5 acres made up of an 8 acre parcel to the west of Bessemer Street and a 1.5 acre parcel to the east of Bessemer Street. Because it was the site of the former Erie Railroad turntable and roundhouse it had a significant railroad history, but it also had significant environmental problems we would need to address. Review the Railroad and Tooling Museum Feasibility Study.

During the planning project we determined we could rehabilitate the existing 84 Lumber main building for approximately $1,000,000. By doing so, however, we would be using a 20-year-old building that was designed as a warehouse and not a museum. Further, it was argued, we could build a new building for the same amount of money and it would be designed specifically for our needs. When we had been considering the Pomona Park site the City had agreed to give us the property at a nominal price by going through the Redevelopment Authority. This was not the case with the 84 Lumber property. Negotiations with them were unsuccessful. Having met with the Department of Environmental Protection we knew we would probably spend at least $30,000 for a Phase II Environmental Assessment and an additional $50,000 to $100,000 for the cleanup. We investigated grant money available for the environmental issues but there was nothing available to us.

We seemed to be between a rock and a hard place. The best possible location was near Precision Manufacturing Institute and downtown Meadville. Our Business Plan, completed by the Ann Barton Brown Company, was based on a $2.5 million dollar project. One million for the property and building and one point five million for the endowment fund. Based on this model the five-year budget projection showed a budget surplus every year. After much deliberation we decided to see if we could use the 1.5 acre parcel of the 84 Lumber site on the east side of Bessemer Street.

The answer was that we could build a 24,000 square foot museum building with parking and comply with all building codes. Porter Consulting Engineers (PCE) had the contract for site engineering and building renderings. The product they provided was done using a program called SketchUp Pro and allowed us to modify the existing 84 Lumber buildings or create a brand new one on the 1.5 acre parcel. The drawing below shows the 9.5 acre site with a 24,000 square foot building on the 1.5 acre parcel.

Rendering of the railroad and tooling museum

Because the 1.5 acre parcel is large enough for our needs, is in the location we desire, is affordable, has lower taxes, is not environmentally contaminated, and is more manageable than the 8 acre parcel, the site committee recommended that the board of directors purchase the property. In December of 2010 the board authorized an offer to 84 Lumber to purchase the parcel. After making the offer for the smaller parcel, 84 Lumber declined the offer, refusing to sell the smaller parcel separately.

Beginning in April of 2011 the Facilities Committee will begin the preliminary floor plan design of the new museum. At the same time the Board of Directors will be working to establish a Capital Campaign Planning Committee. Please visit our site again and check the ‘News’ tab to see our progress.

Thank you for your Interest!