It’s easy to forget about the destinations in your own backyard.
For fans of railroads, local history and miniature models, few local destinations are as compelling as the Medina Railroad Museum.
The museum, housed in the former railroad depot on West Avenue, boasts one of the nation’s largest HO scale model trains and numerous activities that can appeal to a range of audiences.
From the museum, visitors can take rides through the countryside, including fall foliage rides in October, Polar Express rides in November and December, and a Vineyard Express ride to Spring Lake Winery in September.
The train excursions don’t run in the summer months, but there are still attractions in the museum itself.
Visitors can get a look at various railroad scenes throughout the U.S. on the 204-by-14-foot railroad model. The model features scenes of the Falls Road Railroad, which ran from Lockport to Rochester, as well as the Genesee Arch Bridge over the Letchworth Gorge, depicting scenes from the mid-1800s through modern day.
The model, 10 years in the making, began as a passion project of Marty Phelps, who started the train layout in the basement of his Batavia home. After Phelps founded the museum, his model train found a new home.
“The Medina Railroad Museum is a legacy of Marty Phelps’ life and passions,” said Janien Klotzbach, executive director of the museum. “It brings together in one place the ability for people to see and learn about those things about which he was passionate, including railroading, the military and fire safety.”
Phelps, a former city of Batavia firefighter, sold his Batavia home in 1991 to purchase the 114-year-old building that now houses the museum.
The 300-foot-long building was built as a freight depot for the New York Central Railroad in 1905. Before that, a small ticket kiosk stood at the depot’s location, large enough for one ticket agent to assist passengers and answer telegraphs.
For the next six decades, the depot was utilized by local manufacturers, including the Heinz Pickle Factory in Medina.
But during the mid-1900s, railroads were on the decline due to the proliferation of Interstate highways and advances in automobiles and air travel. In 1963, the NYCRR sold the depot to Thomas and Helen Hickey, who at the time owned a thriving furniture business on Main Street.
The Hickeys used the depot for storage for four years, then consolidated their business and converted the space into the Village Square Furniture Store. The depot remained a furniture store until the Hickeys retired in 1991.
That same year, Phelps stepped in and bought the building.
In 1997, Phelps turned the museum into a non-profit organization, with the hopes of preserving the history of the local railroad.
Klotzbach said that is the museum’s goal to this day.
“There are important historical artifacts and knowledge that, once lost, will be lost forever,” she said. “The museum’s goal is to preserve this information and make it available to the public.”