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Today is September 27, 2020

Arriving at the station: The Martin and Sue King Railroad Heritage Museum

By Steven Ward

Arriving at the station: The Martin and Sue King Railroad Heritage Museum

Even though passenger service in the area ended in 1965 and freight trains stopped passing through in 1995, the Mississippi Delta city of Cleveland is well known for its celebration of railroad history.

The Martin and Sue King Railroad Heritage Museum, which opened in 2009, is home to thousands of artifacts, photographs and documents.

Part of the city of Cleveland, the museum was named for the city’s longtime former mayor, Martin Thomas King and his wife, Sue King. “Mayor King had long recognized the importance of the railroad in the town’s beginnings and development,” said Lisa Miller, the museum’s director.

The tracks were removed in 2000 and a walking trail was created for the track space after. The city used a Mississippi Department of Transportation grant to build the museum building, Miller said.

Railroad building tools, maintenance tools, manuals, signals, photos, original documents and maps make up some of the artifacts and displays at the museum.

The early railroad was instrumental in the logging industry in the region, helping to clear the wooded area that would later become vast acreages of farmland. The museum also has several original logging and farming tools on display.

In the center of the building, sits the museum’s huge O gauge model train. Measuring 71 feet by 17 feet, the display is the largest O gauge model train layout in the southeastern United States, Miller said. The model train has a wood and glass enclosure that allows visitors to watch the model trains run through all the scenery in the layout. “There are seven men who rotate shifts running the model trains for visitors,” Miller said.

Outside, the museum features a newly refurbished 1941 Illinois Central Delta Division caboose. The city recently received a grant through the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area to restore the caboose, according to Miller. Most of its original features are intact and open to the public when the museum is open.

The museum hosts about 20,000 visitors a year, Miller explained. “We have church groups, school groups and civic groups visit. All kinds of people visit the museum — often repeatedly! We do have a few super fans,” Miller said. The museum is located in Cleveland’s historic downtown. “The museum is a source of pride for the city and we contribute to tourism in our area while documenting and preserving our history,” Miller said. “One thing I love is that railroad history touches on every aspect of our history. It is not just about the railroad industry. It is about everything before the railroad that brought the railroad to this region and then it is about everything that was impacted by its presence and then by its absence.”

There is no admission fee, but the museum does accept donations and there is a small gift shop where t-shirts, mugs, art prints and also one-of-a-kind mini guitars are sold.

At press time, the museum was closed due to COVID-19. Miller said the city was planning to try and re-open sometime in August.

 

Visit the Martin and Sue King Railroad Heritage Museum Facebook page, the website at www.clevelandtrainmuseum.com or call 662-843-3377 for more information. The museum is at 115 S. Bayou Avenue right next to the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce.

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