Crowds gathered as the historic steam locomotive No. 765 let out a whistle as it sat on the tracks during the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society’s open house on Saturday.
The glossy black engine, which was the first locomotive to make its way across Fort Wayne’s elevated railroads, had coals stacked high as conductors climbed aboard.
In its seventeenth year, the open house event in New Haven was expected to attract 4,000 to 5,000 visitors over the weekend.
On June 17th and 18th, historic steam locomotive no. 765 brought over 2,500 passengers into LaSalle Street Station aboard The Joliet Rocket. Read More
Following the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society’s busiest Open House in history, The Journal Gazette published a powerful endorsement of Headwaters Junction:
Headwaters Junction offers downtown identity
Plenty of good ideas have surfaced as residents have brainstormed over Legacy Fund spending or offered suggestions for Regional Cities projects. But many of the ideas borrow from other communities – a water park or a San Antonio-style river walk, for example. But something unique – something intriguing – was missing.
Until now. The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society’s proposal for a new riverfront destination, Headwaters Junction, might be just the project to ramp up strong revitalization efforts already in the works and also become the kind of attraction visitors will point to with envy when they return to their own communities.
The railroad enthusiasts released concept drawings by Design Collaborative last week. They show a vintage-style roundhouse between Harrison and Wells streets, just north of the proposed riverfront park on the north side of the St. Marys River. A rail yard park and train turntable would service an excursion railroad line to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. The roundhouse also would feature a 1940s-inspired restaurant and observation deck overlooking the rail yard and downtown Fort Wayne.
The historical society has programming ideas: regular excursions (Think “Thomas the Tank Engine”), holiday events (Think “Polar Express”), railroad camp, interactive displays, revolving exhibits and more.
A preliminary study suggests Headwaters Junction could draw more than 120,000 visitors each year. Imagine the potential of marketing the city for conferences and regional travel if Visit Fort Wayne had a one-of-a-kind attraction to promote, particularly one linking downtown to the zoo – Fort Wayne’s primary visitor draw.
Bold ideas often come with big price tags, of course. The project cost is estimated at as much as $18 million – a daunting fundraising task for a nonprofit organization and one that must be considered in the context of other efforts already under way.
But Headwaters Junction can make a strong case for support. The Railroad Historical Society’s excursions on historic steam locomotive 765 sell out quickly, and the very sight and sound of the locomotive draws crowds from afar. Trains have broad appeal.
In Headwaters Junction, northeast Indiana might finally have an attraction as iconic as San Antonio’s River Walk and as family friendly as a water park. Best of all, it could have an attraction unique to the region and true to northeast Indiana’s rich history.
Over 3,000 visitors took part in the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society’s Annual Open House on August 19th, 20th and 21st, shattering attendance records for the event.
The railroad society was featured less than eight local articles in local television and newspapers and over 250 members visited the society for its first annual Members Day activities on August 20th.
The organization also unveiled new renderings for its Headwaters Junction project and announced a ceremonious renumbering of steam locomotive no. 765 to “767,” after the engine that opened the downtown railroad overpass in 1955. Following the Open House, The Journal Gazette penned a powerful endorsement of Headwaters Junction, saying it offered “downtown identity” and called it “iconic, family friendly.”
The engine will operate as “767” at the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in September. At times, the crowds were more than the society’s facility could handle, with traffic backed up to Ryan Road and visitors parked along Edgerton Road once the society’s parking capacity was filled. In response to the wait times for caboose rides, the organization will transition to pre-sales for future Open House rides as they have with their popular Santa Train events, which are held in December.
“We are grateful and overwhelmed by the attendance this weekend. Events like this make it impossible to understate the popularity of railroading and railroad preservation, ” said Kelly Lynch, Vice President of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society.
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