North Carolina Transportation Museum
North Carolina has been on the move since before European settlers first dropped anchor here in the 1500s. Today, you can trace the state’s transportation past at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, NC. The museum was established in 1977 at the site of the historic Spencer Shops, the Southern Railway complex that has been repairing steam locomotives since 1896.
Southern Railway, founded by financier J.P. Morgan, carried hundreds of thousands of passengers and tons of freight between Atlanta and Washington, DC. Spencer, NC is the route’s halfway point, and that’s why it was chosen as the repair facility location. The town of Spencer and the shops were named for Southern Railway’s first president, Samuel Spencer.
The North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer
Begin your tour at Barber Junction, a restored passenger station built in 1898 in the nearby town of Barber. The station was moved to Spencer in 1980. Buy your tickets for the on-site train ride at Barber Junction and embark on a tour around the historic complex. Maps and information about the site are also available there.
Next stop is the Wagons, Wheels, and Wings exhibit located in the Master Mechanic's Office. Displays trace the story of all forms of transportation in the state, including a dugout canoe, a Conestoga wagon, a corduroy road, and an amphibious airplane built by a North Carolinian in his backyard.
If you love cars, stroll down automotive memory lane in the exhibit Bumper to Bumper located in the Flue Shop that originally served as the repair area for the boiler flues of steam locomotives. This exhibit traces the evolution of the automobile in North Carolina, from tiny buggy-type vehicles to sleek 1940s roadsters and modern cars. The vehicles are set against backdrops that feature life from the 1920s through the 1980s. You can see autos ranging from the 1901 White steam car to a 1922 Buick and a 1935 Ford NC Highway Patrol car.
Head on over to the Robert Julian Roundhouse, a 37-bay facility built in 1924. It is one of the largest ever constructed and one of the few roundhouses remaining in the country.
Exhibits focus on the lives of the men who made Spencer Shops run and the history of railroads in North Carolina. See more than 25 restored locomotives and rail cars, as well as shop areas at which locomotives are still worked on today. Video presentations, interactive exhibits, and a huge scale model of Spencer Shops bring the story of the rails to life for people of all ages. Observation areas allow visitors to view locomotives and rail cars being restored.
Ride the 100-foot-long turntable which moves the locomotives from one track to another.
Finally, you must ride one of the trains. A 25-minute ride around the 57-acre museum property is available. Hours vary depending on season, so be sure to check before you go.
How To Get There:
From Interstate 85 north of Salisbury take exit 79. Turn west following the brown signs to Salisbury Avenue. Make a left; the entrance is approximately one-half mile on the left. Travel time from Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and Statesville is less than one hour. The museum is closed on Mondays. (704) 636-2889
added: December 30, 2008
updated: May 26, 2010
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