Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 14, 2013

Highlands planning rail exhibits

Museum asking for loan of artifacts from Russell

Mike James
The Independent

ASHLAND — What started with discussions about dismantling a museum mural that has hung for years has morphed into plans for two exhibits on northeastern Kentucky’s rail history.

The Highlands Museum and Discovery Center will develop two exhibits, director Carol Allen said. The first will open in mid-July and last about six weeks. If it is successful, it will serve as a precursor for a longer and more extensive exhibit in 2014.

Allen and museum curator Heather Akers have talked to some major collectors of railroad memorabilia and today will ask the Russell City Council for the loan of some artifacts from its museum in the city’s senior center.

The idea came to Allen, who has been museum director since August, last week during a board meeting when someone floated the idea of taking down the mural on the northwest wall. The mural, an enlarged photo of a vintage street scene with railroad tracks, has been part of the museum since its days in the Mayo Mansion, Akers said.

Sometime following the meeting, Allen came up with an alternative — rather than remove the mural, why not use it as the background for a temporary collection of railroad memorabilia?

That was a week ago Wednesday. Allen and Akers sprang into action because they are putting the initial exhibit together in almost record time. It normally takes a year to plan one, collect artifacts and create displays that put them into historical context.

A former teacher in Russell schools, Allen called on a couple of her former students who went into the rail industry. They led her to others. “They said they know people with museums in their basements,” she said.

Assuming Russell permits loan of its items, the exhibit will be rounded out; space will be limited so they are not looking for more items right now.

Among the Russell items, she has her eye on are photos and paintings, cups and dishes used in dining cars and a few pieces of equipment, such as a lantern and a radio telephone.

“I think it’s a compliment that they want to use our items,” said senior center co-coordinator Ruth Hopkins.

The museum may look for more items when it comes time to assemble the 2014 show, Akers said. While it is too early to start collecting, she would like to hear from area collectors, railroad retirees and enthusiasts.

She suggested calling her at the museum at (606) 329-8888 and describing potential display items.

Akers anticipates most items will be loaned, but said donations can be tax deductible.

The exhibit is exciting because it spotlights an important part of northeastern Kentucky’s history and because trains are perennially popular, according to Allen. She is alerting railroad societies in other cities and regions in hopes it will generate visits to the museum and the city. “Something like this will bring people to Ashland,” she said.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.