The William R. and Laura Rand Orthwein Education and Visitor Center gives the museum an additional 13,000 square feet of indoor space and a new entrance to the 129-acre museum, said Terri McEachern, executive director of the Transport Museum Association.
"I'm so excited for this building," McEachern said of the visitor center that's nestled downhill from the current parking lot and current entry to the museum. A full wall of windows allows visitors to view the tracks carrying the miniature train the building. "I think it's beautiful."
The large, open exhibit area in the visitor center will house three artifacts, McEachern said. The Reading "Black Diamond" Inspection Locomotive, the Boston and Providence horse-drawn coach, and the Bellefontaine No. 33 horse-drawn coach will all be relocated to the visitor center. Special exhibits can be accommodated in a small room near the Creation Station. The first exhibit housed here will be "The Whistle Stop: Presidential Travel by Train." This exhibit, which focuses heavily on Missouri's own Harry Truman, will be open March 6 through inauguration day in January 2013.
When Sprout visited the new building last week, muralist Jane Saunders was painting the room that will house the Creation Station, a hands-on learning environment that introduces children 5 and under to various aspects of transportation. Her goal: to get as many modes of transportation represented in the bright, colorful murals that cover every wall surface.
"The fun part of this is seeing the kids when they come in here because they just have so much fun," Saunders said. "It's the energy ... the energy of the bright colors and the space."
Saunders has painted the previous two Creation Stations and developed one of the newest exhibits at the museum, "Transportation of the Civil War," which will open March 6 in the Barrett Station building, the former welcome center for the museum.
While Saunders was painting, workers were also finishing up the track for the museum's popular miniature train. When the visitor center opens, guests will climb aboard the train at a stop just outside the new building.
At a cost of $2 million, the visitor center is largely funded by its namesake, William and Laura Orthwein, and federal grants, McEachern said. The new facility is actually just part of the capital improvements planned for the museum. Phase Two of the improvements involve enlarging the center with an attached, glassed-in exhibit hall. Trolley extensions are also in the works. The first extension, which will open next fall, allows guests to ride the trolley to the Earl C. Lindburg Automobile Center. The second expansion, which is dependent on funding, would extend the trolley line to the lower part of the museum grounds, allowing passengers to embark and disembark at the new visitor center, McEachern said.
Members of the Museum of Transportation will be the first to explore the new visitor center. The doors will open to members only on Tuesday, Feb. 28, at 5 p.m. The general public is invited to visit the new building on Wednesday, Feb. 29, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Bob Withers, author of "The President Travels by Train: Politics and Pullmans" will be signing books in the visitor center from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (The train will begin running for the season on March 1, and many of the newest exhibits are scheduled to open March 6. The Creation Station is open to members Feb. 29 through March 2, and it opens to the general public on March 6.)
The museum is hosting a moving sale in the former Creation Station on Saturday, March 3. Gently used toys and many fixtures in the former Creation Station will be for sale--including the iconic boat.
The Museum of Transportation is located at 3015 Barrett Station Road, St. Louis, Mo., 63122. The museum was named one of the seven best family attractions in 2011 by Sprout readers.
Pictured (numbered from top to bottom)
Photo 1: The new visitor center backs to the miniature train station where passengers climb aboard and circle the lower museum property.
Photo 2: Jane Saunders debates where to paint a helicopter in her mural along the walls of the new Creation Station.
Photo 3: The visitor center, which opens Feb. 29, includes additional parking and a pedestrian-friendly entrance.
Photo 4: A wall of windows adds light to the exhibition area of the new visitor center.