The Galesburg Railroad Museum is a not for profit corporation established to promote the research, exploration, and discovery of the history of the railroad industry as it applies to Galesburg and Western Illinois. Its objective is to gather and preserve artifacts, historical documents, data, letters, accounts, and articles as it relates to the history of the local railroad.
It operates a museum under the control of a Board of Directors and houses and displays its collection of items, either donated or loaned for such purpose. In a way, the Museum grew informally. In 1970, the Burlington Northern Railroad Company was formed by merger of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, the Great Northern, the Northern Pacific and the Spokane, Portland, and Seattle and Railroad Companies. At that time, it formed the largest railroad in the United States in terms of mileage operated.
The CB&Q Railroad Company was an integral part of that merger and Galesburg in particular. The first train pulled into Galesburg on December 7, 1854. Four original lines – The Aurora Branch, Central Military Tract, Peoria & Oquawka, and the Northern cross – eventually merged to form the foundation of the CB&Q system in Illinois. The formation of the railroad into and through Galesburg in four directions had a dramatic effect on the community. The population grew rapidly, and the building trades prospered. Galesburg became a home for a major railroad installation, and the CB&Q became the city’s largest employer well into the 20th century. In 1926, the CB&Q employed 3,300 people in Galesburg. That led to the formation of good relationships and financial and other benefits to all parties. This long era good feeling continued to the time of formation of Burlington Northern in 1970.
In 1974, Burlington Northern wished to thank the community for its support since the inception of the new company. The railroad and its employees held an open house, inviting the people to come onto railroad property so they could see the railroad and its facilities. Normally, the railroad yards and facilities are closed to the public.
Employees of the railroad were enthusiastic about the idea and offered their time and assistance in demonstrating to the public what each craft did to make a successful railroad operation and to let the public view this operation. A number of flat cars were revised with benches for seating and a protective rail for safety. These cars, fully occupied with visitors, were taken through the railroad facilities with an employee on board to explain the operation. This event proved to be so popular and successful that it was held again in 1976. In 1978, the City of Galesburg became involved with the first Galesburg Railroad Days, a city-wide celebration. Railroad Days has continued since that time on an annual basis and has grown each year.
The tours of the Galesburg yard began at the BN passenger station. Because of the desire of the populace to take the tour, there were a number of people waiting at the depot for each trip. To fill the waiting time and as a matter of diversion, railroad employees, both working and retired, offered their time and their own memorabilia to display to the public. Examples of the material shown were switch keys, rule books, lanterns, photographs, and so on. These employees were in the baggage room area where a simulated telegraph office was set up. Visitors were able to send and receive a message.
At this time, the employees and others who had personal collections, began to discuss among themselves the idea of a permanent museum or some type of facility where their collections could be kept and displayed for the benefit of the public. In the meantime, the group applied for a charter for a museum from the State of Illinois. The matter was further discussed with local Burlington Northern officials.
In 1981, Burlington Northern offered to the group a retired Pullman parlor car, The Meath, built in 1930. After its removal from passenger service operation, BN used the Meath for a bunk and dining car for construction gangs traveling over its system. At the time of its donation to the group in Galesburg, the car had been taken out of service and was destined to be scrapped. This group of working and retired railroaders and non-railroaders, with help from the BN, redid the interior of the car to make it the showcase of railroad memorabilia that it is today. It was in 1981 that the Galesburg Railroad Museum was formally organized, and it was dedicated by Illinois Governor James Thompson in 1982.
A donation of the lot at the corner of Seminary and Mulberry Streets was made to the infant museum. Railroad section men placed rail and ballast at the site, and Burlington Northern set the car in place. Koppers Corporation donated timbers for the entrance ramp, and railroad B&B employees built the ramp. This was the first piece of rolling stock in the museum. The refurbished Meath car was then filled with display cases to exhibit valuable artifacts, and a simulated telegraph office was built.
Locomotive engine 3006 had been given to the City of Galesburg by the CB&Q RR in 1960 as a tribute to the city for its long association with the railroad. After the formation of the museum, the city by lease turned the 3006 over to the museum, which has maintained and exhibited it since that time.
Museum personnel next approached the Burlington Northern about a caboose or waycar. The railroad in 1984 gave to them waycar CB&Q 13501 built in 1930, one of the first steel waycars on the Burlington Route. It was placed behind the 3006 and has been fully equipped with artifacts such as a stove, tools and fusees and stands today as an exact replica of what it was during its many years of operation. The caboose had been retired from active service on the railroad in 1982. It had been the home away from home for many Brakemen and Conductors for over 50 years. This was the third piece of rolling stock in the museum.
The Galesburg passenger station was a major terminal for receiving and dispatching mail onto trains. The mail taken off trains was sorted for transfer to local trains operating in and out of Galesburg. In later years as some of the local trains were taken off, the mail would be transported by trucks over what was called a Star Route. While railroad employees may have sorted mail bags on and off trains, it was the Railway Post Office clerks who handled and sorted the mail on train. In addition, there was a United States Post Office employee in the depot. Because of the major importance of the Railway Post Office in the history of railroading in this area and the home of many former employees of the postal service, museum officers felt that a RPO car would be an historical and valuable addition to the museum. A local fund drive was held to raise the money to purchase such a car and place it in the local museum. There was a great response from the public to this request and from former RPO employees around the country. In 1988, the museum purchased car CB&Q 1945, a combination RPO and Baggage-Express car, from the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The car was transported to Galesburg and placed between the 3006 and the caboose, our fourth piece of rolling stock. It was cleaned and repaired and painted with help of railroad employees and inmates of the Henry Hill Correction Center in Galesburg.
By the year 2004, we had reached our monetary goal with a generous contribution, and began construction in July and was finished in October. The museum started a campaign to sell granite bricks with the anticipation of a depot style building to be set in Colton Park, north of the Amtrak depot and on the former spot of the old depot.
The building was finished in time to dedicate it on the 150th anniversary of the first train into Galesburg, December 7, 2004.
So much has changed through the years that listing all would take much more space and time, and undoubtedly, something would get overlooked. We invite you to come take a look at the wide range of memorabilia we have displayed, and to look at where we have come over the years.
The museum would not have begun or grown to what it is today were it not for the vision and dedication of the early supporters, all of whom became its charter Board of Directors. They spent many hours of physical effort to see their dream materialize. The museum is indebted to its benefactors and friends who have donated or loaned several hundred pieces of history which are on display. These people are owed our thanks, our respect, and our admiration. The present Board will continue its work to assure the growth and preservation of the Galesburg Railroad Museum.
Support Our Museum
Over the years, the rolling stock of the Galesburg Railroad Museum has been preserved and maintained by the museum's board of 16 directors, all volunteers, men and women, railroad and non-railroad alike.
Each year over 15,000 patrons visited our museum, representing 45 states and 10 foreign countries.
Our goal at the present time is to maintain our Museum in order to accommodate our continuously growing inventory of railroad artifacts and memorabilia. The building is a depot style frame, measuring 34 feet by 72 feet. It is handicapped accessible and has restrooms, a reading room, a souvenir shop, and of course display cases of artifacts. Our Pullman car was handicapped accessible, but did not have any facilities. Since the Pullman car was moved over with the rest of our railroad cars, it is no longer handicapped accessible.
Galesburg has been a "railroad town" since the arrival of the first train in 1854. Each year the City of Galesburg holds an annual Railroad Days Events, on the fourth weekend in June. Our museum building enhances this weekend, adding to the pleasure of tourists and citizens alike. The City gave us permission to build in Colton Park, next to our rolling stock.
We earnestly solicit your consideration in helping us with maintaining our building for future generations. This Corporation is a non-profit, non-political, non-sectarian organization. No part of any receipts shall inure to the benefit of any member, and no officer, or director of the Corporation, shall receive any compensation for his or her services as officer or director.