At the entrance to the town of Phoenicia, just off Route 28, there is an unmarked road. It would be easy to pass unless, say, you knew someone who lived in the mobile homes behind the trees or caught a glimpse of the vintage Chevy truck with its bold “For Sale” sign. You might be tempted to drive down that road, hoping as we did that your instincts would be rewarded by some out-of-the-way gem. And if you did, you might be as pleasantly surprised as we were.
Located at 70 Lower High Street, the Empire State Railroad Museum is a railroad fanatic’s fantasyland and photographer’s dream. While we stumbled on it by a happy accident, a visit to the website reveals that this destination is far from unknown. In fact, the ESRM (as we railroad aficionados call it) was established in 1984, built in 1989 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can enjoy photos, exhibits, tours and even see a wooden 1900’s Boston & Maine baggage car, a 54-foot Central Vermont 1929 automobile-carrying box car and many others.
On the day we explored, there was a thick layer of snow on the ground, obscuring the old railroad tracks and lending an even more desolate look to the antique cars and equipment. Shrouded in tattered tarps, some of the old cars looked like they were lifted straight out of the Wizard of Oz. Others looked like a fresh coat of paint and drink of oil would be all they’d need to chug along. Some cars had only the faintest remains of peeling paint to provide identification, others still bore the names “Ulster & Delaware” proudly. Strewn about were pieces of equipment used to repair or maintain the old cars.
By preserving and restoring these old cars, the Empire State Railroad Museum is preserving an important piece of local history and sparing these gorgeous wrecks from a sad trip the junkyard. While they may no longer be used to transport bluestone and agricultural products, these cars still have a job to do. They connect us with the past and remind us where we come from.
For a photographer, stumbling on a hidden place is the holy grail. When it’s crowded with decrepit, forgotten artifacts, all the better. The Empire State Railroad Museum located at the old Phoenicia station is well worth a visit.