‘It’s overwhelming’: Decatur Union Depot Museum opens to tell city’s railroad history

Jun 26, 2017

From The Decatur Daily
by Marian Accardi

Despite the blustery weather Friday, a crowd of about 250 turned out for the opening of the Decatur Union Depot Museum, marking the completion of the final phase of an eight-year, $2.25 million renovation of the 1905 L&N Railroad Depot.

“This gives us five museums in about a one-block area,” all with a history component, said David Breland, Decatur’s history resources director. “This will be a tourism draw.” Breland already has welcomed visitors from Seattle, England, Germany and the Netherlands.

The museum, at 701 Railroad St., will be open to the public, at no charge, starting Monday.

During the ceremony, Breland introduced 95-year-old Ross Malone, the oldest former railroad employee. Breland called him a hero who was on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, during the World War II D-Day invasion.

“I’m glad I’m here to see all this,” said Malone, who came to work here in 1947 after serving three years with the Army. He worked at the Decatur depot for 35 years. His favorite part of the structure was the ticket office, where he once worked.

“We’ve had a continuous railroad history since 1834,” Breland said. The museum features railroad and transportation artifacts, a mural of the city’s rail history and a movie that shares that history. Some of Breland’s favorite pieces are the original superintendent’s desk; round and X-shaped cast-iron crossbucks that are mounted on the walls in the theater room, both about 100 years old; and a rare deep-green velvet Pullman passenger car seat.

There’s also an original baggage cart that was restored by Caleb Frye as part of his Eagle Scout project. Another Scout, Matt Brown, contributed to the museum by building wooden platforms so children can easily look through the windows into the model railroad exhibit.

Visitors passing through the museum Friday were impressed.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Ralph Rich, of Decatur, whose father was an L&N locomotive engineer for more than 40 years. ”It’s a beautiful display. It’s neat to see all the artifacts.”

Ariel Tulloch, also from Decatur, was checking out the mural during her tour with her two brothers, parents and sister. “Ever since I was little, I’ve seen the depot,” she said. “Now I get to experience its history.”

The renovation was a “massive undertaking,” Breland said, since the structure was nearly falling in from having been neglected over the years. The project will continue to evolve, he said. “A museum ought never be finished,” he added.

Another piece that soon will be added to the lobby is a framed professional rendering of the front page of the 1912 first edition of The Decatur Daily.

Sixty to 70 officers with the Decatur Police Department are also based at the facility, police said.

The process of renovating the depot began in 2009 when the City Council voted to accept a $750,000 grant from the Alabama Department of Transportation for the project. Contractors began work on the renovation in early 2015.