A new complex of museums featuring Crawford County’s railroad and tool manufacturing history, along with other area artifacts, will draw tourists to downtown Meadville, according to a plan developed by a coalition of area organizations.

Plans for the Northwestern Pennsylvania Railroad and Tooling Heritage Center were unveiled during a recent meeting of Crawford County commissioners as organizers sought verbal support and input.

The plan calls for locating the center near Seco/Warwick along the French Creek Parkway.

Phase I, with an estimated price tag of nearly $3 million, would be construction of a two-level station, with the first level measuring 60 feet by 80 feet and the second level, 60 feet by 30 feet. A room for displays extending from the building would measure 50 feet by 140 feet.

The first floor would be used to showcase the displays; the second would be museum offices and records storage.

Phase II, with an estimated price tag of $375,000, would be an addition of a second display room on the north side of the building with additional parking.

Phase III, which is expected to cost more than $400,000, would be addition of a diner, a railroad siding and an outdoor display.

According to organizers, the center would provide:

• Space for storage of the Erie Railroad archive paper collection. Boxes and boxes of railroad records are now in storage in a basement — not available to the public to view or for research.

• Space for a model railroad layout of the Meadville area during the 1940s and 1950s. This would allow younger generations to view what life was like in Meadville during those decades.

• Space for preservation and display of an early 20th-century toolmaking shop, along with displays explaining the history of the tooling industry and its impact on Crawford County.

• The Crawford County Historical Society with a location to display historical artifacts not now available to the public.

• Quality educational programs.

Plans are to construct a passenger depot designed like the original Meadville depot of 1893 and to locate it as close to the original site as possible, said Dan Higham, president of the historical society.

Along with the depot would be railroad cars on the tracks.

“We will combine the old and new,” said Ed Cronin of the French Creek Railroad Historical Society, “old artifacts and state-of-the-art technology. We want to be the western gateway to Pennsylvania.”

Tim Mullen of the Northwestern Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association said Precision Manufacturing Institute will move its museum and displays to the site.

Plans also include the development of a display showing the Foriska Machine Shop, one of the first tool shops in the area. “It primarily served the railroad,” Mullen said of that company’s work. “It was the beginning of our (tooling industry) roots and heritage.”

Although the plans are for many displays, the center also will include interactive displays to allow hands-on educational programs for younger generations.

Mullen noted the displays “will not be stagnant,” but will be changed two or three times a year.

Some of the tooling displays include a training spacesuit used by astronaut John Glenn that has a Talon zipper, said Mullen.

Higham said the historical society has many railroad artifacts with no room to display them. This center would give the society that room.

“Crawford County does not have a legitimate museum,” he said, noting although the Baldwin-Reynolds House is a good museum, it’s limited as far as the artifacts displayed. “It is a great personal house,” he said, but added that doesn’t tell the county’s complete history.

“People tell us they have things to give us, but want it to be displayed,” Higham said. “We need a place to display them. We want to preserve our heritage for the future.”

The group wants to start with Phase I and go from there and will seek state funds to help with the costs. Its purpose Tuesday was to ask commissioners to give its verbal support — not necessarily financial support at this time — and to ask for input and guidance.

The presentation also will be made to other governmental entities.

“It’s a rather ambitious program,” said Crawford County Commissioner Roger Williams, but added it is important to preserve the history.

Others involved in the project are the Crawford County Convention and Visitors Bureau and faculty members from Allegheny College, who are offering advice.

Jane Smith can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at jsmith@meadvilletribune.com.

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