The Bowie Railroad Museum is on track to receive the most significant renovations it has undergone since it was moved to its current location in the 1990s after the City Council approved funds for repairs to three historic city buildings.
Bowie’s railroad was responsible for drawing many residents and businesses to the area in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the railroad museum – located in the old train station – marks a significant part of Bowie’s history, said Pam Williams, the city’s historic properties manager.
“Modern Bowie was born on the railroad,” Williams said. “Before the railroad came here, this wasn’t Bowie. It was just generically called Collington. These structures are the starting point for our modern history.”
On June 2, the City Council contracted Waldorf-based American Architectural Restoration, LLC for around $98,000 to update and repair the railroad museum, including making interior and exterior structural repairs and painting. The cost was about $53,000 above what the city originally budgeted for the project, according to a council memo written by city manager David Deutsch, so the council approved an emergency ordinance to cover the deficit.
“Given the historic nature of the Bowie Railroad Museum Complex it is important that a highly skilled and qualified contractor, who has experience completing exterior and interior construction related work on a “registered” historic building, be hired to complete the work,” Deutsch wrote in the memo. “Unfortunately there are few contractors who are available to complete this type of specialized work, making it difficult to obtain highly competitive bids.”
Councilman Dennis Brady said he believes the preservation of Bowie’s history is worth the higher price tag.
“The work needed to be done and there are limited people who do this kind of work,” he said. “The numbers came in a little higher than expected, but it was justifiable in that it’s part of our history.”
Repairs to the museum are expected to begin in the upcoming fiscal year and while Williams said she would like to make it a priority, no start date has been set. After the museum is renovated, repairs will also be made to the welcome center next to the museum and the National Capital Radio & Television Museum in Bowie, she said.
The railroad museum is open Tuesday through Sunday and receives about 7,500 visitors each year, Williams said.
“There are a lot of real fans in the local area,” she said. “It’s a busy little place.”
One visitor, Susie Foushee of Bowie, said she and her son would often visit the railroad museum for its children’s programming.
“When he was younger and really into Thomas the Tank Engine, I used to take him there a lot,” she said. “It was a relatively popular stop. It’s nice to know they’re planning on renovating it.”
Brady said he sees the upcoming repairs as a way to honor Bowie’s history and recognize what can be learned from the past.
“I think it’s of great value to preserve the railroad,” he said. “We are paying tribute to the past in the hopes that we will move forward and remember the past and benefit from it.”