FORT WAYNE, INDIANA – Non-profit organization and potential riverfront developer Headwaters Junction, Inc. has finalized a purchase agreement with railroad company Norfolk Southern Corp for one mile of historic railroad right-of-way along Fort Wayne’s growing riverfront district. Unoccupied since 2006, plans call for the right-of-way to be utilized for the proposed attraction’s tourist train operations and connect the riverfront to other area attractions. The line was originally built in the 1860’s. Read More
Headwaters Junction scored yet another victory in its long development process as it was included in the only proposal received by the city for the development of the North River property. Local coverage sums up the situation: Read More
FORT WAYNE, INDIANA. – For the third year in a row, the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society’s Santa Trains have sold out in under 24 hours. The popular event, which offers a 20-minute train ride with Santa Claus, has been expanded in 2016 to include extra days and has turned the society’s restoration facility into Santa’s Workshop.
“Each year the popularity of this event increases and our facility has been upgraded to not only accommodate more operating days but to improve the experience for visitors,” said Bill Otter, president of the FWRHS. “The reception has been exactly what we hoped for. We wanted people to say ‘wow’ when they walked in the door.”
Home of restored Nickel Plate Road steam locomotive no. 765, the society’s facility on Edgerton Road received a concrete floor in early 2016 and equipment on display has been outfitted with Christmas lights, fog machines, music and sound effects for the occasion. While all trips for December are sold out, visitors are welcome during operating hours on December 10th, 11th, 17th and 18th.
Visitors are able to explore the 765, take their photo with the famous engine, visit a children’s activity area and watch model trains on display before climbing aboard Santa’s caboose. The trips are operated by one of the organization’s vintage diesel locomotives.
“Since we began this event over 15 years ago, visitors would often have to wait for 2 hours or more which was unacceptable. With the improvements we’ve made over the years, the experience has become an annual tradition for so many families,” explained Kelly Lynch, Vice President.
Following on the heels of the organization’s record-setting attendance at its Open House in August, the Santa Train will host nearly 5,000 visitors throughout December.
The Santa Train is one of several operations included as part of Headwaters Junction, an attraction that will comprise Phase 1b of downtown riverfront development. The project will include a railyard park, roundhouse and tourist railroad enabling greater capacity for similar events, regularly historic railroad attractions and programming and events throughout the year.
Recent studies underwritten by Steel Dynamics, the Fort Wayne Community Foundation, the Schust Foundation and the railroad historical society have shown that Headwaters Junction could draw over 140,000 visitors to downtown and contribute $60 million in economic impact and that expanded facility could easily bring 20,000 people downtown during the holiday season. 20,000 more visitors were added to the initial projections after a connection to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo was included as part of the project’s initial phases.
Renderings can be viewed online at headwatersjunction.com. Additional news regarding leadership, grants and equipment acquisitions for the project will be forthcoming in 2017.
The 2017 excursion season for the 765 will be announced in the spring.
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.