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Pennsylvania Trails:
A Colonial Homestead and a Railroad Museum

Article by Tom Straka

Photographs by Pat Straka

Pennsylvania has a vast choice of roadside cultural attractions. Two that are close by to each other in Amish Country are Daniel Boone's childhood colonial homestead and the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. Both, operated by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, are fascinating ways to learn more about American history in an environment that also allows for a fun time. The homestead has a number of related historical displays along its walking trails. Next to the railroad museum is the Strasburg Railroad and a chance to ride a steam locomotive.

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The mansion, Note the bottom right portion of the mansion was originally the log cabin.


Daniel Boone Homestead

 In 1730 Squire Boone purchased 250 acres of land and built a log cabin with a spring cellar on this property. Today that property is adjacent to a major four-lane highway.  A son, Daniel Boone, was born there four year later. This is the same Daniel Boone that is famous in American history and folklore. He tended cattle and scouted the local woodlands for the next sixteen years. The cabin was later incorporated into a brick mansion that still stands today on a state historical site. The homestead is intended to actually tell the story of three families who have lived on the property and to give insights into the early history of this region of Pennsylvania.

Squire Boone was a blacksmith and weaver.  During the summers Daniel occupied a small cabin at the edge of the pasture in order to better tend the cattle and to protect them from the many predators. In 1750 the Boone family had a falling out with the local Quaker community and decided to move to North Carolina. Daniel moved further south and west with the family and later continued moving west.

The site has a large visitor's center with exhibits and a gift shop. Brochures outline a self-guided tour and a guided tour is also available. Of course, the mansion, with the log cabin built in, is the central attraction. It is furnished to facilitate interpretation of the Boone family and to illustrate everyday life of the early settlers.  The guide is often in period costume. A well-developed trail system leads to a smokehouse, sawmill, barns, blacksmith shop, and the central house. Give yourself at least a few hours to visit this site.

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Colonial barn and blacksmith shop. Yes, there are critters in the barn. The water-powered sawmill

Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania    

Railroad enthusiasts won't want to miss the huge museum on 18 acres with 100,000 square feet of exhibit space (50 pieces indoors) with a total of 100 locomotives and cars. Many pieces are open to the public.The collection dates back to the 1939-1940 New York World Fair when the Pennsylvania Railroad assembled an assortment of vintage locomotives and rolling stock. The "Pennsy" prepared for the fair by gathering together and refurbishing historic equipment and relics from early railroading. This included a wooden Cumberland Valley Railroad Combination Coach originally built in 1855, six late 19th Century wooden passenger cars, and a class H3 freight steam locomotive built in 1887. Also, two full-sized replicas, one of the "John Stevens," originally built in 1825, and a replica of the "John Bull," a Camden and Amboy locomotive, originally built in 1831. Both replicas were built in Altoona in 1939/1940 to be used in the "Parade of Locomotives," a daily attraction at the fair.

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Under protective plastic during museum remodeling is No. 20, the Tahoe. Once owned by the Virginia and Truckee Rail Road in Nevada and used to haul lumber and supplies to the Comstock Lode (silver strike) and ore back to the main line.

The "John Bull" Replica was built in 1939 for the World's Fair, but the original is the world's oldest still operable self-propelled vehicle.

The collection did not end with the fair and it continued to expand to include a D16SB "American" type locomotive (4-4-0) built in 1905 at Juniata and an A5 (0-4-0) switcher also built at Juniata in 1917, a B6 switcher, three passenger locomotives (Classes E6, G5 and K4), an M1 dual-service locomotive, and four freight engines (Classes H6, H10, I1 and L1). By the mid-1960's the collection had grown too expensive for the railroad to maintain and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania decided to build a State Railroad Museum adjacent to the Strasburg Railroad (the oldest continuously operated short-line railroad in the United States).  The museum opened in 1975. 

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This gives some indication of the size of the museum.
You can pack a lot of trains in 100,000 square feet
Gandy dancers or a road section crew.

Exhibits celebrating the early history of railroading in Pennsylvania fill the side aisles and platforms, with displays featuring railroad employees in other areas of the main exhibit hall. Outside, a number of additional locomotives and rolling stock occupy a five and a half acre yard, centered around an operational 1928 Reading Railroad turntable. While the Museum is known as the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, it is not the Pennsylvania Railroad Museum. It celebrates all railroads and railroad-related industries that contributed to the history of the Commonwealth. The collection has grown impressively and includes locomotives and rolling stock from at least 18 different Pennsylvania railroads and 22 different builders overall. In addition, the museum displays an extensive collection of railroad objects, including lanterns, china, tools and accessories, clocks, watches, and minutia that accumulates around railroads and rail yards. 

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There are all kinds of interesting things on display.
This is a rail road snow plow.
One of many, many locomotives

     Across the road from the museum are the Strasburg Rail Road and the National Toy Train Museum. Even if you are not interested in toy trains, the Toy Train Museum has five large train layouts and is quite interesting. The Strasburg Rail Road was founded in 1832. Its East Strasburg Station offers a chance to view engines and rail cars up close. The highlight is a 45 minute round-trip rail ride to Paradise, PA on a coal-burning stream train. The scenery is Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch farm country.  The train has a number of authentically-restored passenger cars, including a dining car with food service. There are amusements nearby for the children, including a miniature steam train ride. The switch tower built in 1885 and a classic example of Pennsylvania Rail Road signal tower design can also be viewed by the public.

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Inside the dining car where food and beverages are served. The National Toy Train Museum includes five major train layouts.

How to Get There

Both are in Amish Country of Pennsylvania. The railroad and museum are about 25 minutes southeast of Lancaster. The Daniel Boone Homestead is on US 422 about 20 minutes east of Reading near Birdsboro. The ideal way to see both is to make them part of longer visit to Pennsylvania Amish Country



For more info:

Daniel Boone Homestead    http://whttp://www.rrmuseumpa.org

Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania    http://www.rrmuseumpa.org

Strasburg Railroad   http://www.strasburgrailroad.com

National Toy Train Museum   http://www.nttmuseum.org


Author: Thomas J. Straka is a forestry professor at Clemson University in South Carolina.

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