The ALCO Heritage Museum has been derailed, at least temporarily, but the ALCO Historical and Technical Society is alive and well, according to President Matt Giardino.
The museum opened on Maxon Road Extension in Schenectady on June 10, 2012, and remained open until Oct. 7. The original idea was to reopen the museum sometime this month in a smaller building at the same location, but those plans have been scrapped due to lack of funding. The building is owned by Schenectady Floor Covering.
“We’re on hold for a while,” Giardino said Wednesday afternoon. “We stayed open until October, but then we really didn’t have the funding to sustain us. So, over the next two months, we packed up and moved all the artifacts off site, and they are now safely in storage. We’d love to find a site and we are looking, but right now I’m working on our finances and pursuing new funding. If it’s not practical that we find a new location this year, then we’d like to have something in place for 2014, something preferably in our own building.”
The ALCO Heritage Museum celebrated the long railroad legacy in Schenectady, beginning in 1831 with the initial trip of the DeWitt Clinton, one of the first railways in the U.S. to carry passengers. In 1851, John Ellis started the Schenectady Locomotive Works and in 1901 that company merged with seven other locomotive manufacturers from around the country to form the American Locomotive Company.
“The museum is a project of our organization,” said Giardino, who succeeded John C. Mech as president of the group in 2012. “Yes, it’s the largest and most important, but it’s only a project. What we have to do is start planning and fundraising for the long term. What we did at Maxon Road, well, I don’t want to say it was a ‘Hail Mary,’ but it was short-term. The idea of moving everything to the smaller building at the same site just wasn’t practical.”
The museum attracted more than 6,000 people in 2012, which museum director Jim Cesare called a success.
“But with the economy being what it is, we could not sustain that building,” Cesare told the Gazette in October 2012. “So, our next best step was to get another building, a smaller one, where we will still be able to function.”
Cesare was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
The Maxon Road Extension site gave the museum a home on what was formerly ALCO property. It also gave the facility access to a rail line, which allowed the group to host the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train on Nov. 29. Giardino is putting few limitations on where the new location might be.
“Ideally it would be right in Schenectady,” he said. “Being right there at the ALCO site makes perfect sense. But we’re not going to rule out something that’s close or nearby. Any site that we can sustain for the long-term is what we’re looking for.”
ALCO historian Dave Gould, like Giardino a volunteer, expects to keep busy the next few weeks preparing a traveling exhibit the group planned after receiving a $4,500 grant from the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.
“We’re hoping the traveling exhibit will kind of serve as our flagship as we develop a capital plan and hopefully get enough resources so that we once again have a usable space for all our artifacts,” said Gould. “The exhibit will showcase the history of the early railroads and the Erie Canal, and we’re going to call it ‘From Cooperation to Competition,’ because originally the railroads were built to augment or improve the canal.”
According to Gould, the exhibit will tour the state, with possible stops at the New York State Museum in Albany and the Schenectady County Historical Society.
“They’ve both showed interest and are willing to help,” said Gould. “We’d also like to have it at the Waterford Tugboat Roundup in September, and perhaps have it on display with the replica of the Leviathan up in North Creek. That’s a steam engine that was built at the Schenectady Locomotive Works in 1868.”
Serious planning for a railroad museum in Schenectady began back in November 2009, when the ALCO Historical and Technical Society was first formed.