On a recent Tuesday afternoon in Frisco, a group of 7th graders had lunch on a train from Chicago.
The train, built in 1972, ran on the electric division of Metra Metropolitan Rail in Chicago until around 2015.
Today, it sits on an exhibit track behind Frisco’s discovery center and new public library. Perched on one seat is a poster declaring, “Trains built communities like Frisco!”
The train is one of many more that are placed on the tracks behind the Frisco Discovery Center and Frisco Public Library. The units each represent a different era in history, and each are one of the 65 pieces of “rolling stock” that make up the collection at the Museum of the American Railroad.
The museum moved to Frisco starting in 2010 from its previous location at Fair Park in Dallas. The final piece of the museum came to Frisco in 2013.
“We have moved to Frisco to basically realize this museum’s potential,” said Bob LaPrelle, president and CEO of the museum. “And, you know, it was kind of a quiet little remote part of Fair Park for many many years, but we knew that there was so much history in the collection and such opportunity to grow this collection and get more exposure that, at the invitation of Frisco, we decided to come up here and really build it out like it should be. And that’s where we are. We’re doing it in phases, but it’s going to be one of the major cultural tourism destinations in North Texas when it’s finished.”
Today, work continues toward that vision as rows of exhibit tracks are being placed and concrete walkways are being poured.
The final vision for the museum includes 10 rows of exhibit track totaling over one mile of track on the 14-acre site. It also includes a period-style train shed harkening back to the era around 1910 or 1920 that will house the historic train cars that the museum has collected over time. The structure will give cover to the units, which will help with preservation, LaPrelle said.
“It also makes for a much more visitor-friendly environment for people to come and tour the trains out of the sunlight, out of the rain and also provide accessibility with all of the paved surfaces and stairways,” he said.
The museum is also looking ahead to its final phase, placing a roughly 10,000-square-foot, multi-story main building on the site that is expected to face Cotton Gin road. The building would house smaller exhibits and would include other museum amenities, making it open to hosting after-hours events like weddings and corporate events.
“It’ll be a fantastic public space,” LaPrelle said. “The trains will almost serve as a backdrop, if you will, where you can have some great civic and outdoor and indoor activities.”
LaPrelle said the museum will likely start raising funds for the train shed via a capital campaign later this year.
Today, the museum welcomes visitors, including Frisco ISD students. The site hosts 3rd and 7th grade classes from FISD middle and elementary schools and also hosts a program for high school students who are taking Frisco ISD’s African American studies course.
“When we moved to Frisco, one of the best conversations we had was with Dr. (Rick) Reedy, who at that time was the superintendent of schools here in Frisco, about how we fit into their educational programs,” LaPrelle said, “and that was one of the big goals of moving up here, was to fit into the district’s whole field trip programs. Which we’ve done — it’s been very gratifying. The school district’s been great to work with.”
In addition, he said, roughly 40% of the museum’s general visitation comprises out-of-state visitors.
“We see a higher percentage of out-of-state visitors than most of the museums in north Texas, because there’s kind of a pilgrimage to see trains,” LaPrelle said. “And it’s not just rail enthusiasts. It’s people who like transportation museums and they like that aspect of history.”
More information about the Museum of the American Railroad is available at historictrains.org
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