By Kasey Eichensehr
Railroads brought changes and new opportunities to many Ohio communities in the 19th century. For Bradford, Ohio, the railroad was not only a major part of the town’s economy – it was the town’s origin. Bradford was founded in 1857, when the first train reached the end of the railhead at the Miami/Darke County line. For more than a century, the railroad was the town’s primary employer. Residents manned the trains, worked in the switching yard and looked after the locomotives that were stored and maintained in the roundhouse.
“Railroads connected America back in 1869 when the golden spike was driven,” Marilyn Kosier, founder and chief fundraiser for the Bradford Ohio Railroad Museum, told the Greenville Daily Advocate. “Every town that was near a railroad profited from the service they provided. America needs to appreciate what they did to move America forward and how they contribute to our economy today.”
The Bradford Ohio Railroad Museum (BORM) is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to instilling appreciation for and preserving the railroading heritage of Bradford and the surrounding area. The museum aims not only to educate the public regarding railroad history and changes in technology, but to serve as a repository for historic artifacts, papers and oral histories. Physically, the museum consists of two landmark structures: the Bradford Bank Building and the Pennsylvania Railroad tower.
Exhibits are located in the old Bradford Bank building, built in 1919 and restored by BORM. The museum’s photographic and three-dimensional displays guide visitors through Bradford’s rich history as a railroad town. Current exhibits include railroad signs and lights, tools, station memorabilia and an authentic railroad worker’s uniform. The lower level holds a children’s learning center.
The museum also owns the 1925 Pennsylvania Railroad BF interlocking tower (BF was the tower’s telegraph designation), where operators controlled the switches and signals that made up Bradford Junction. The tower was in use until 1983. It sat unused for years until a group of local railroad buffs rescued it. Now it’s on the National Register of Historic Places and has been fully restored by BORM. “The BF Tower is one of the few remaining totally mechanical switching towers,” Kosier notes.
BORM has other irons in the fire as well – it collects oral railroad histories and received the Alliance’s Outstanding Achievement Award for the video “The Oral History of the BF Tower Operators, Keepers of the Crossroads.” The museum organizes and hosts an annual Railroad Festival, which includes lectures, model railroad displays, children’s train rides and activities and a “Telegraph School.” BORM also participates in highway rail grade safety awareness through Operation Lifesaver.
The next several years will be exciting ones for the museum. With the help of a $275,000 state Capital Budget appropriation, BORM will soon begin work on a $480,000 renovation of the bank building, which will include the installation of new permanent exhibits. The new exhibits will meet social studies requirements for K-12 students.
“Museums preserve history and enhance the lives of everyone,” says Kosier. “Imagine the world with no museums. How would current generations experience and learn from the stories of those before us?”
The Bradford Ohio Railroad Museum is located at 200 N. Miami Avenue in Bradford. It is open Saturdays from 10 to 1 and Sundays from 1 to 4, April through December. For more information, visit www.bradfordrrmuseum.org.
Kasey Eichensehr is a Region 7 representative of the Ohio Local History Alliance and Curator of the Clark County Historical Society in Springfield, Ohio.