June 15--CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS -- The crowd at the Cambridge Springs Trolley Station on Monday may have been the largest since President William Howard Taft visited a century ago.
About 120 people crowded the station and spilled over outside for an evening program on the history of the former trolley station and a nonprofit organization's plans to operate it as a public meeting place and museum.
The Northwestern Pennsylvania Railroad & Tooling Heritage Center recently acquired the station in a deal brokered by the Crawford County Historical Society. The Heritage Center currently is petitioning Crawford County Court for the release of $51,000 willed for station maintenance by a previous owner.
The center also plans to open another museum in Meadville'sBessemer Commerce Park, in space recently vacated by Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Members will launch a capital campaign this fall to raise money to buy the building for use as an industrial heritage museum.
"It's a beautiful building that was three-quarters finished for Edinboro University and could include a gorgeous two-story gallery," Heritage Center President Ed Cronin said. "And it's easier to raise money for a building that potential donors can see."
The organization previously planned to build the industrial museum on property that it purchased across the street from the Bessemer Commerce Park facility.
Cronin shared plans for both museums at the trolley station Monday. Station doors were opened wide so the overflow crowd could hear.
Doors were not only opened but enlarged for Taft's visit, said Dan Higham, chairman of the Heritage Center's trolley station project. According to biographers, the nation's 27th president weighed in at more than 300 pounds when he came to Cambridge Springs to dedicate Alliance College in October 1912.
"Probably, this is the most people who have been in this room since," Higham told visitors Monday.
The former trolley station was in its heyday during Taft's visit. Built by the Erie Traction Co. in 1910, the station accommodated passengers and freight on the company's Erie-Edinboro-Cambridge Springs line. Another station once located across the street accommodated trolley service to and from Meadville.
Trolley service waned in the 1920s when a growing number of automobiles and trucks drove off with its passengers and freight. The Cambridge Springs station later served as a bus station and automotive garage but had been vacant for some time by 1991 when it was inherited by Erie native Melvin Townley, local historian Dale Doctor said. Doctor, of the Cambridge Springs Heritage Society, was the featured speaker for Monday's historical program.
Townley, a curator at the Smithsonian Institution'sNatural History Museum, had grown up in Cambridge Springs and retired there in 1993. He used the trolley station as an art studio and willed the property to the Crawford County Historical Society, along with some money to maintain it, on his death in 2008.
"He was concerned that someone might turn it into a laundromat," said Higham, a past president of the Crawford County Historical Society.
The society didn't have the resources to renovate and maintain the building but successfully negotiated with Townley's other beneficiaries to transfer the property to the Heritage Center. By terms of Townley's will, if the Crawford County Historical Society gave it up, the station was to be sold and the profits divided among the other beneficiaries.
A Crawford County Court judge finalized the property transfer in February.
The court will hear the Heritage Center's petition for the release of money that Townley willed for station maintenance on June 30.
The Cambridge Springs Trolley Station is expected to be open to the public by Labor Day. The building will accommodate public meetings and programs during the week and will be open as a "mini-museum" on weekends. Displays will celebrate railroad and trolley history since the 1850s, Cronin said.
Still on the to-do list before the opening are refinishing the station's wooden floor, detailing the waiting room and installing insulation and air conditioning. Crawford County Career & Technical School students rewired and painted the building.
Also this fall, the Heritage Center will launch a first-phase capital campaign to raise $550,000 toward the purchase of the Bessemer Commerce Park property in Meadville. The building currently is owned by the Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County.
The Northwestern Pennsylvania Railroad & Tooling Heritage Center was organized in 2006 with the goal of building a museum celebrating the region's industrial history. The organization shifted gears when Edinboro University vacated its space in the Bessemer Commerce Park, in a building constructed by the Atlantic & Great Western Railroad in 1865, in 2013.
"We'd really like to acquire that property," Cronin said.
VALERIE MYERS can be reached at 878-1913 or by e-mail. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNmyers.
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