Building a Home to save Florida's Railroad History
A New Railroad Station for Parrish
Ben Jordan - Parrish Village News January 2020
Several years ago the Board of the Parrish Civic Association was concerned that the then County Commissioners didn’t know much about (or in a couple of cases had never visited) the area of Manatee County called Parrish where they were approving so many new housing developments. So they offered to host the Commissioners on a bus tour of Parrish followed by a meet and greet with area residents along with some C&K BBQ. All seven Commissioners accepted the invitation and it was a very enjoyable and worthwhile afternoon and evening with about 100 people joining the Commissioners after the bus tour. Residents talked about what they felt we needed in Parrish and one result of the meeting was the Commissioners approval of the expansion of Rocky Bluff Library into its present building
But I digress from the point of this story. As we boarded the Commissioners onto the bus at the Old School House the bus driver, who had already told us he had lived in Parrish for 15+ years, asked where we wanted the tour to start. When we said to start at the Florida Railroad Museum he replied – wait for it – “Where is the Railroad Museum?”.
Like our bus driver, the Florida Railroad Museum remains one of the best-kept secrets in Parrish (and Manatee County) for many residents. Established in 1981 in Tampa the Museum moved to its current location at 12210 83rd Street East in Parrish in 1992. The museum is a 501 (c) 3 not for profit corporation with a mission of acquiring and operating railroad equipment in order to “preserve Florida’s railroad history”. It operates excursion train rides on weekends year-round on a six-mile run between Parrish and the old logging community of Willow on the Hillsboro/ Manatee County border. In addition to these runs, it periodically offers special-themed event rides. There is another article in this paper about the special event rides coming up.
Outside of the beaches, the Railroad Museum is one of the top tourist attractions in Manatee County – in fact, the North Pole Express is rated as one of the top 10 Christmas train experiences in North America. In 2019, the Museum hosted over 50,000 riders. Riders come from all over the US and there have been passengers from Europe, Asia and South America (a wife from the UK gave her husband an opportunity to drive the train – she said it was on his bucket list.) The Museum also hosts groups from area schools several times a year and many summer camps plan rides for their children. There are churches that charter the train for social events and corporations that rent the train for company training or team building. The Museum also assists many other not for profit groups from our schools and local community by supporting them for providing volunteers, running booths at various events, etc.
The Museum has seen many changes in the last four years. The depot in Willow has been completed; new decking, fencing, and gates have been built in Parrish; a model railroad car has been built and it is very popular at company functions and special events. Currently, the foundations, concrete slabs, and exterior walls for the 5,000 square foot Freight Room (auditorium) and restrooms have been completed. Construction is on hold until further funds can be raised. Eventually, in addition to the auditorium, there will be a new Museum Store and Ticket Office and a four-track display that can have up to 18 cars on display and protected from the weather. There will also be a covered loading area for the train. The Florida Railroad Museum is a real jewel that deserves our support. Whether you ride the train, volunteer to help with the events or become a member, they will appreciate your involvement