A place for train lovers

Salem’s Hay Museum offers unique,
historical displays

Newest addition is a museum
devoted to the Monon line

Debra Maylum
Staff Writer

SALEM, Ind. (December 2004) – People living around Jefferson County, Ind., don’t need to travel far to find an area rich in history and heritage. With so much available right in their backyards, anything off the beaten path tends to be easily overlooked. One of these sites, just a short drive from anywhere in this area, is the John Hay Center, a museum located at 307 E. Market St. in Salem, Ind., and operated by the Washington County Historical Society.

Kiwanis Fish Bus

Photo provided by Cecil Smith

Richard Cantwell (left) of Borden, Ind., who started his career on the Monon in the 1940s, admires an HO train piece held by John G. Campbell of Louisville.

The center is home to the Stevens Memorial Museum that includes an extensive genealogical library that attracts visitors from across the United States who come to do genealogy, according to society president Willie Harlen. Also part of the museum is the Pioneer Village, where the John Hay House sits.
The newest addition at the John Hay Center is The Depot, a railway museum commemorating the role Washington County played in the fabrication of the Monon Railway.
Displays in the museum highlight antiques and vintage items such as quilts and clothing, sports memorabilia, military items and re-creations of rooms, complete with artifacts, representing what an Indiana home would have looked like a century ago.
Part of the museum is the story of John Milton Hay, who served as personal secretary to President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State under President’s McKinley and Roosevelt. The house is the only building in the Pioneer Village standing at its original location. The historical society purchased the house in 1966 and it earned listing in 1971 on the National Register of Historic Places.
The buildings in the village that were not brought intact to the site were reconstructed there between 1979 and 1986. The reconstructed pioneer community portrays a settlement on the southern Indiana frontier during the 1840s.
The Depot, the most recent addition to the John Hay Center, houses a compilation of railroad memorabilia as well as toy and model trains. The Depot commemorates the role Salem played in the 1847 organization of the New Albany & Salem Railroad, which later became the Monon.
Businessmen in the Salem area began formulating plans in the 1840s for the construction of a railroad that would link them to the river town of New Albany, Ind. Construction began on the New Albany & Salem Railroad in 1847. When that portion of the railroad was completed, officials figured they might as well just go the whole state, said Cecil J. Smith, the Station Master at The Depot.
Construction continued and the first train to make a trip over the full state of Indiana, from Michigan City to New Albany, left on July 3, 1854. The 30-mile railroad proposed by the Salem businessmen would now make history as it traveled from Lake Michigan to the Ohio River.

Kiwanis Fish Bus

Photo provided by Cecil Smith

A miniature train display shows the Monon
line (above) stopped at Pekin.

The Depot building is a replica of the actual Salem depot and was build by students from the Prosser School of Technology over the course of two years, said Smith. “They did a marvelous job, we are proud of them and they are proud what they did. They come back often with their families,” he said.
Inside the building are displays from both the Monon and other railways that have been collected by Cecil and Martha Smith over a period of 30 years. Displays include dishes, glasses and silverware used to serve guests aboard the Monon and other southern Indiana railroads, as well as furnishings, signs, advertising items, timetables and other equipment from depots.
Perhaps the most impressive display at The Depot is the large model railroad depicting the Monon as it travels through Washington County. Models of actual buildings and detailed landscaping recreate a vision of Salem, Pekin and Campbellsburg as they looked between 1957 and 1964. The model train travels on miniature rails laid according to actual Monon track plans.

Kiwanis Fish Bus

Photo provided by Cecil Smith

A freight train is parked at Campbellsburg, Ind.

The creators of this extravagant display are volunteers, as are all of the employees at The Depot, who have been working on it for over two years and say it will take at least five more before the project is complete.
Gerry Riesterer, who used to live and work in Salem, creates many of the handmade buildings on display. He is now retired in Wisconsin but still creates buildings and mails them to The Depot.
John G. Campbell and John K. Campbell take photos and measurements, which they send to Riesterer in Wisconsin. Riesterer then sends back the completed buildings that sit among handmade landscaping and trees, created by Andy Long of Crawford County, Ind. Long uses actual weeds to create the trees that look incredibly real. He builds them in his home and periodically comes into The Depot with 30 or 40 trees to plant.
To buy the trees would be tremendously expensive, so Long’s work is greatly appreciated, Smith said.
Before leaving The Depot, visitors can climb aboard the real Monon caboose parked at the side of the building and watch as real CSX trains pass nearby. Visitors can visit one or all of the areas at the John Hay Center for an hour or a whole day of entertainment and education.

• For more information, call the John Hay Center at (812) 883-6495.

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