Train museum coming to Newton

It has been more than 35 years since Newton's train depot helped transport passengers from one location to another.

But new life continues to reinvigorate the building on North Main Avenue, including the addition of an outdoor train museum.

The Newton Depot Authority announced March 9 they will add an outdoor railroad museum to the historic Newton Depot. The railroad museum is designed to collect, restore and preserve railroad equipment that honors the railroad's history in western North Carolina.

The Newton Depot Authority is planning a capital campaign to fund the project, said the authority's vice chairman Thomas W. Warlick. No city funds will be used toward the campaign.

Once completed, the outdoor museum will be free to the public.

Warlick couldn't provide an estimate to how much money the depot will cost.

"We're working very diligently on that," he said.

The project's completion will depend on how quickly funding is obtained, but Warlick said the Newton Depot Authority hopes to finish the project by next year.

Additions to the Newton Depot will also include a fence and concrete walkways for pedestrian traffic.

"The Newton Depot is excited about adding the outdoor museum component and is committed to providing a heritage education program that will focus on our area's rich railroad history," said Joe Long, Newton Depot Authority chairman.

The museum will feature several narrow-gauge railroad cars, which are undergoing restoration in an Oyama warehouse facility. The cars are some of the oldest used by the Chester and Lenoir Railroad.

"We had some railcars donated to us, and we had some suggestions that if we had a place to display them, other people would want to donate, too," Warlick said.

Other exhibits in the museum will include a boxcar from Tweetsie Railroad and a Southern Railway caboose.

The Alexander Railroad donated the rails, spikes and other fittings needed to install three rail tracks adjacent to the depot. Newton Public works helped clear and grade the site.

The Western North Carolina Railroad reached Catawba County in 1860.

About 20 years later, the Chester and Lenoir narrow-gauge railroad joined the WNCRR and reached Newton.

Several other depots continued to serve Newton and Catawba County in the 19th century. The Elliott Building Company constructed the city's existing depot in 1924. The depot operated freight and passenger services for the next 50 years. Some of the Southern Railway's most famous passenger trains, including the Carolina Special and the Asheville, used the Newton Depot as a stopping point on their journeys.

Passenger rail travel was discontinued from the Newton Depot in 1975.

The station stopped transporting freight in 1975. The depot continued as an abandoned building until 1995, when the Newton Depot Authority was founded.

With support from local citizens, the building was refurbished and moved to its current location at 1123 N. Main Ave. It opened to the public in 2006 and contains a railroad museum and a model railroad club. The existing museum displays headlights, china, silverware and bells from railroad cars.

The facility is also available for public and civic rentals.