At one time in America’s history, passenger trains were the vehicle of choice for traveling long distances, and Bowling Green had one of the most impressive train depots.
“The L&N Depot building was completed in 1925 and it was really a jewel for Bowling Green,” says Dick Webber, Vice President of Friends of L&N Depot. “It was a much larger depot than most cities saw at the time. As many as 27 passenger trains went through here a day, so that made it a hub of activity.”
“It’s a colonial revival style,” explains Dorian Walker, a Board Member for Friends of L&N Depot. “It was built of materials that would last a thousand years. [It’s made of] our own famous Warren County Limestone, which is a unique limestone because unlike other stones that often gray in age, it actually whitens in age.”
The two-story entry features handmade tiles on the floor, walls, and wainscoting. Walker says the interior was “made to impress.”
Today, the depot is The Historic Railpark and Train Museum.
“Our museum is set up as a self-guided tour, complemented by a guided tour aboard the actual railroad stop that we have out on the railroad track. You move at your own pace.
“[Visitors] will have an opportunity to board a real passenger train,” says Walker. “The docent will take them through each car giving them a history of each car they’re going through and answering questions along the way.”
The museum’s train starts with L&N’s 796 diesel locomotive. From there, visitors will see the restored post office car from 1926.
L&N named its diner car after a famous Kentuckian whose name is still familiar today. The Duncan Hines diner car seats 48 and is named for the Bowling Green native and restaurant critic now best known for the boxed cake mixes that bear his name.
The Towering Pine sleeper car provides examples of the different types of service that passengers would have had, from the open section to deluxe first class.
We start with a beautiful—one of the most popular and strong diesel locomotives that the L&N ever had, and it was the 796. Immediately behind that is the railroad post office car. Very historic car that went to work fro the railroad carrying the mail across the commonwealth and the midsouth in 1926. It’s a fully restored interior and exterior of the car.
The army hospital car was used during World War II and the Korean War to transport wounded soldiers after they returned to American soil.
“Before you could fly across the ocean, which is what we would do today, they came by ship,” says Walker. “They were brought into a port and put into one of these cars and then taken to their homes so they could recover in the comfort of their family.”
The 109 car is what’s known as a Jim Crow car, referring to the reconstruction-era laws that mandated segregated facilities for white and black Americans, starting with train cars.
“The 109 has been fully restored,” says Walker. “This tells the story of the 19th century making of wooden cars as well as the very controversial but very American story associated with the Jim Crow laws.”
The museum’s train car collection ends, appropriately, with the caboose.
“Anyone growing up through the 1970s will remember that never was a freight train without a red caboose on the end of it,” says Walker. “We have one of those which was a gift from CSX.”
The Museum is more than just a destination for visitors fascinated by the golden age of American rail travel. The impressive space is also available for events.
“We make this available to the public,” says Walker. “We have wedding receptions here, business conferences, shows of different sorts. For anything you could think of needing to have a space that’s memorable and wonderful, this depot is the place to be.”
This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2013, which originally aired on April 4, 2015. Watch the full episode.