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.
NEW HAVEN, INDIANA – The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society (FWRHS) made several important announcements today, revealing a major cosmetic change to historic steam locomotive no. 765 and releasing new renderings and information on its riverfront attraction project, Headwaters Junction.
“The 765 was preserved by the City of Fort Wayne to recognize how a successful railroad elevation project in the 1950s inspired a half-century’s worth of progress. Today the engine has become an international attraction and can be the centerpiece in a new era of development,” explained Kelly Lynch, Vice President.
With its planned annual programming and events and the popularity of railroad attractions like no. 765, the project was endorsed by Legacy Fort Wayne in 2012 and recommended by SWA Group as a catalyst for the riverfront development in 2014.
Local developer Don Steininger and the railroad society have created an advisory board of community leaders and a separate non-profit organization to pursue the project. Earlier in 2016, a preliminary study demonstrated that as a stand-alone attraction, it could easily draw 120,000 additional visitors to downtown.
“Our board is excited at the possibilities that Headwaters Junction represents for future riverfront development. We are aggressively pursuing ways to make this a reality, ” said Steininger.
Newly released renderings by Design Collaborative illustrate a mixed-use interpretive facility with event space, a 1940s-inspired restaurant, Cass Street station, rail yard park, turntable and a tourist railroad line connecting the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo to downtown. The roundhouse would be located between Harrison and Wells Street.
Planned events and programming at Headwaters Junction include regular and special holiday tourist train rides, a Rail Camp for children and young adults combined with other educational programming, visits from Thomas the Tank Engine and the Polar Express, interactive displays, exhibits and visiting historic equipment and much more throughout the year.
“Right now we’ll 4,500 people in sixteen hours during our events in December, to say nothing of the thousands more that the 765 draws when it operates. We could multiply our attendance numbers by being able to host regular events, train rides and programs right along the heart of downtown,” said Lynch.
The project has been organized into three phases:
• construct a 15-24-inch gauge railroad to the zoo ($3-5 million)
• acquire land and right-of-way, construct railroad, install turntable ($3-4 million)
• construct roundhouse and interpretive facility ($8-9 million)
Headwaters Junction’s advisory board is currently preparing grant requests and additional study work for this fall. Plans, rendering and additional information can be accessed online at headwatersjunction.com.
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On Friday, the railroad historical society also announced a major cosmetic change to the 765. In a move to honor its unique history and the reason for its preservation, the 1944-built locomotive will be temporarily renumbered “767” – the same number it wore while on display in Lawton Park from 1963 to 1974. “767” was chosen to reflect the locomotive originally used to open the railroad elevation at the conclusion of the Elevate the Nickel Plate Campaign. Prior to donation, the Nickel Plate Road discretely changed the number on the engine because the original 767 had fallen into significant disrepair.
The renumbering, which is planned to remain for the rest of 2016, compliments other alterations made to reflect the locomotive’s appearance before it was retired in 1958. Most noticeable is the addition of an extra headlight known as a Mars Light. Developed by the Mars Signal Light Company, the Nickel Plate Road added these to many locomotive in 1951 as a way to warn motorists and pedestrians of the oncoming train.
In 2013, the FWRHS was aided by a former Nickel Plate electrician from Frankfort, Indiana to repair the Mars Light, which had been removed in 1975 and used only sparingly since. Many railroad fans and historians recall the distinctive look of the Mars Light and have requested its reappearance for years.
For more information on the 767, we’ve posted the engine’s colorful history here.
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The 765/767 will operate passenger excursion trains through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in September. In December, the railroad historical society will host its annual Santa Train events. Ticket sales begin in November.
For more more information, visit fortwaynerailroad.org. You can volunteer or become a member here or donate to support the organization here.
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NEW HAVEN, Indiana – The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, Inc (FWRHS) is moving to replace major components of historic steam locomotive no. 765 and take on a variety of other projects in 2016 after another successful year of operations. Read More
FORT WAYNE, INDIANA – The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, Inc. (FWRHS) marks the beginning of its 2015 excursion season with an inaugural trip out of Fort Wayne and news of a major donation toward making a combined railroad and riverfront attraction a reality.
Steel Dynamics has donated $15,000 toward a marketing and feasibility study for Headwaters Junction, a lauded attraction concept designated as a critical component of Phase 1 of the riverfront plan. The total cost of the $70,000 study and development work is anticipated to be covered by grants and private donations.
Headwaters Junction would prominently feature the Society’s popular attractions, annual events, programming, excursion trains, and an interpretive facility and is estimated to attract between 100-200,000 additional visitors to downtown Fort Wayne each year.
“We are very grateful to Steel Dynamics for helping us kick off the project,” said Kelly Lynch, Communications Director. “The community has steadily come to understand the worldwide appeal of the 765 and its operations. Having this train is a lot like having one of the last living dinosaurs and the Polar Express all wrapped up into one.”
SWA Group, a landscape and architecture firm, consulted with the city throughout 2014 to develop a viable riverfront plan. Early in 2015, SWA Group proclaimed that Headwaters Junction has the potential activate the neighborhood and riverfront area in an authentic and catalytic way. More information on the project is available at headwatersjunction.org.
On July 18th and 19th, historic steam locomotive No. 765 will operate two round-trips between Fort Wayne and Lafayette, Indiana in a repeat of its successful trips from 2013, which sold out in less than 2 hours. The round-trips feature a variety of accommodations aboard passenger cars from the turn of the century, including the Dover Harbor, a 1920s car complete with its own wait-staff, kitchen, and meals served throughout the day. Tickets are on sale now at fortwaynerailroad.org.
The Society has recently added additional tickets for its reincarnation of the Wabash Cannonball, a famous passenger train that operated between St. Louis, Fort Wayne, and Detroit.
The Fort Wayne trips mark the beginning of a busy year that will see No. 765 operate in Youngstown, Ohio, Allentown and Scranton, Pennsylvania, Buffalo, New York, and the Cleveland-Akron region. Passengers routinely travel from all 50 states and travel internationally to experience the vintage steam locomotive and train.
On February 4th, the City of Fort Wayne and its consultant SWA Group revealed the master plan for the 700 acres of downtown riverfront. As part of the first phase of enhancements, SWA has recommended the inclusion of Headwaters Junction, a railroad tourist attraction featuring the collection and operations of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society (FWRHS), including historic steam locomotive no. 765.
“We believe that Headwaters Junction would be a catalyst for the riverfront and activate the entire area with the draw of this famous train. People come from all around the world to experience the 765 and now they’ll able to do it along the riverfront,” said Todd Meyer, Director of Planning and Urban Design for SWA.
The inclusion of Headwaters Junction follows several years of planning and community input, wherein Headwaters Junction was endorsed by Legacy Fort Wayne as “big, bold, and transformational.” The plan has consistently ranked highly among the community since 2011 and was recently included among the top ten riverfront improvement priorities.
Initial plans call for Headwaters Junction to include a recreated roundhouse, a once-common structure in Fort Wayne that served many of the community’s railroads. The roundhouse would be used for restoring and maintaining historic equipment and include a turntable, small railroad yard, and interpretive facility for display and exhibition, as well as a mixed use venue for private and public events. Visitors will be able to take rides, tour the facilities and participate in hands-on activities, and even operate real-life trains. Additionally, educational outreach programs targeting young adults would be offered, allowing high school students the opportunity to learn welding and preservation skills, as well as experience working on a railroad.
“The 765 and the railroad tourism industry provides a very unique kind of emotional experience for visitors and passengers. Trains are a romantic, sensory attraction,” said Kelly Lynch, Communications Director for the Railroad Historical Society. “We are thrilled that SWA and the City of Fort Wayne have recognized the potential in these incredible community assets breathing life to the riverfront.”
“For the same reason that you don’t need to be a sports fan to enjoy a night at Parkview Field, you don’t necessarily need to be a lover of history or trains to enjoy the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of Headwaters Junction,” said Lynch.
The Railroad Historical Society would utilize Headwaters Junction to expand its present operations, events, and annual programming. An adjoining railroad right-of-way would be reactivated for tourist train service with annual programming that would include events like dinner trains, the Polar Express and others throughout the year. Additional images, videos, renderings, and information are available at headwatersjunction.com.
Regional excursions behind the 765 could depart from the location at Harrison Street. The attraction would also house other historic railroad locomotives and equipment, including another steam locomotive, which are conceived to also operate on the railroad line.
Early estimates see at minimum 100,000 additional visitors downtown and an estimated economic impact of 9 million dollars from operations and out-of-town visitors each year. Comparable attractions earn anywhere from 100,00 – 400,000 visitors each year.
Total cost for the entire riverfront plan is estimated at 200 million dollars, with projections for the construction of Headwaters Junction ranging between 10-20 million depending on its final scope.
Headwaters Junction and the riverfront project as a whole will require significant public-private partnerships. As of this writing, the Society is exploring opportunities with potential corporate sponsors. In the past, the organization has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the restoration and maintenance of railroad equipment like no. 765 through donations, grants, and strategic partnerships.
Recently, the organization’s annual Santa Train operations hosted 3,500 passengers in 16 hours. The Society’s excursions behind no. 765 are often filled to capacity, with its 2013 trips out of Fort Wayne selling out in less than two hours. During the 2014 Three Rivers Festival, no. 765 brought several thousand passengers from Detroit to Fort Wayne. Among the riders were passengers from South America, England, Canada, Texas, and California.
In recent years, the 765 has been the centerpiece at events that have drawn crowds of up to 40,000 people. Currently, Norfolk Southern Corp., and the Society partner regularly to operate passenger excursions and employee appreciation trains throughout the railroad’s 22,000 mile system.
The Society plans to pursue a dedicated feasibility study for the project in 2015 and plans to announce its excursions season with no. 765 sometime this spring.
The renderings featured below are conceptual in nature and provided for conversation and illustration.
Final scope, arrangement, placement, and neighboring structures are to be determined.