By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,748)
After twenty-one years on the Munjoy Hill waterfront at the Portland Company Complex, the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Company & Museum has announced that its long term plan to move most of its rolling stock to Gray is getting closer to realization than ever before. A serious search for a more permanent home was begun about three years ago when Museum officials became aware that Phin Sprague, Jr., owner of the property on which the Museum is located, 58 Fore Street, was actively looking for a purchaser for his valuable property. Last year, Sprague sold the historic property to Jim Brady and his investment group for $15 million.
Gray was selected through an RFP process in which Bridgton was also a contender. A major step forward in relocating the former Edaville Railroad occurs on Friday, April 11th at the Gray Plaza in Gray. That’s when Central Maine Power will present the deed for the right-of-way to the Museum to Donnell Carroll, Executive Director of the Museum. The ceremony is set for 11:30 am. “CMP” owns the right-of-way and has been negotiating language with the Museum in order to donate the property that will provide the route for the historic rail line on which to operate according to a press release issued by the Museum. “This is the key to progress for the project to move forward,” said Carroll. The right-of-way along the former rail-bed of the Portland-Lewiston Interurban provides the necessary path for us to proceed.” Representatives from all the parties involved in the relocation effort will be present at the ceremony. The public is invited as well.
The next step in the ambitious plans to move to Gray will be a fundraising campaign expected to begin this summer. The Museum needs to raise $6 million to move most of its rolling stock and other equipment to Gray. Carroll has also enlisted the assistance of Maine’s two Senators Collins and King to see if there are federal funds and grant money available to assist in this huge effort. .It is hoped that the move to Gray will be completed in 2016. A few pieces of the rolling stock will remain at the present location until at least 2023 and perhaps beyond. That’s because Maine Department of Transportation (“MDOT”) who owns the rail bed has leased the use of the tracks to the Museum through that year; a lease that the Museum can cancel whenever it wants to.
However, major events like the annual Polar Express for 2015 are in jeopardy at the current location. It is planned that the next Polar Express fundraiser will occur in Gray during the 2016-17 season. The rent charged by Brady and his investors, CPB2, following the build-out, will be roughly three times what it is now – an amount the Museum can’t afford to pay according to Carroll. Therefore, those events and operations will be transferred to the Gray location.
Meanwhile, plans for the new Museum building in Gray have been drawn up. They include a 9,500 sq. ft. building with space for displays and a second floor with conference rooms, offices and an events center. Some track will be laid within the Museum itself to allow for trains in the building for ease in moving the trains. The plans for the proposed Museum in Gray have already gone through an extensive vetting process. Carroll is currently looking for an artist to produce a rendition of what the building will look like. Do you know anyone?
The Museum at 58 Fore Street is composed of antique cars that were purchased from the Edaville Railroad, South Carver, Massachusetts in the early 90’s. Phin Sprague, Jr. and a group of rail fans, including the late Erv Bickford, and other founders spear-headed the effort to bring the trains back to Maine where they came from. The “two-footers” operated in the northern part of the state from the 1879s through the 1940s and were composed of five lines. They were two footers because they were less expensive to build and could get through the rough terrain of northern Maine better than regular gauge.
“Every day is a learning experience for me,” said Carroll. He’s served as the Museum Director for the past five months. “This is as excited as you’ll ever see me get,” he said grinning calmly. He has an extensive background in working with non-profits in southern Maine and is a resident of Gray. Between 1982 and 1994, Carroll served in the Maine State Legislature as a Democrat.
For more information please visit: www.mainenarrowgauge.org or call Christina Napoli, at 207 – 828-0814.