It’s easy to walk near Mount Clare Junction in Southwest Baltimore and not think twice about the large brick roundhouse building with several trains on the tracks behind it.

Despite a “Welcome to the B&O Railroad Museum” sign, the space preserving the “birthplace of American railroading” seems unassuming, with its tucked-away entrance under a green awning.

The museum, which officially opened in 1953, is hoping to change that perception as its facility is re-envisioned as a site that’s more appealing and inviting to both neighbors and tourists.

It all begins with the museum’s South Car Works building, which was the oldest continuously operating railroad repair facility in the United States. The restored building will be the new and improved entryway into the museum, and will face toward Southwest Baltimore with the hope that renovations promote even more investment in the area.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

As the 200th anniversary of the railroad approaches in 2027, the museum wants to be ready for locals and tourists alike to explore the extensive collection of freight cars, passenger cars, maintenance vehicles and more.

“Every piece of our collection is connected to a significant place, person or event in American history. We tell the story of American history through the railroad,” said B&O’s Executive Director Kris Hoellen, who considers the B&O hallowed ground.

Children visiting the museum, hardly tall enough to read the plaques next to the displays in the roundhouse, can look at the neatly painted and preserved trains and carriages. Some of the trains have connections to presidents and even the Civil War.

In 2021, Mount Clare Station, the campus’s oldest surviving building, was designated a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site after documenting 27 freedom seekers who used the B&O Railroad on their journey. Research found that at least eight came directly through the station.

The museum has plans to spruce up their offerings, too.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

For the history buffs and paper chasers, archival space added to the grounds will include some documents that haven’t been on public view before, according to Hoellen. Visitors will be able to see for the first time correspondence with presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, meeting minutes from the railroad’s board of directors in 1827, and access to over 200,000 photographs collected by the museum and employee records.

An innovation hall will also get people up to speed on train technology. From hybrid engines to the evolution of command operation centers, the exhibits will explain how the industry is evolving to compliment “safe, clean, efficient transport of goods and passengers,” according to the museum’s website.

As the museum’s education program continues to evolve, there will be two smart classrooms for on-site visits and digital learning opportunities.

If all goes as planned, construction on the museum will begin at the end of 2024 and finish in time for the 200th anniversary, Hoellen said.

The renovations are being made possible through a $30 million capital campaign launched last year. Janet Currie, Bank of America’s Greater Maryland president, said the bank’s recent $500,000 donation aligned with its charitable foundation’s interest in opportunities to help fund “rich, cultural opportunities” in Baltimore neighborhoods.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“It is a national treasure. It brings visitors to our city. … This is a project that is part of making sure that people understand that Baltimore is a city to visit, a city to live in,” said Currie, who is also on The Baltimore Banner’s board of directors.

Currie said the museum’s presence and updates are not only about tourism, but economic mobility.

Kintira Barbour, president of the Mount Clare Community Council, said the new entryway specifically will symbolize that “this is a place for [Southwest Baltimore] to enjoy … this is for you, too.” But even without the new aesthetic changes, she believes the museum is already championing multiple ways to enhance the quality of life for neighbors and make locals feel included in what’s already there and what’s to come.”

The B&O participates in the Museums for All program, which allows people who receive SNAP benefits to gain entrance at a reduced price. Restore Baltimore, a partnership between the museum and the Community College of Baltimore County, trains people in restoration and construction trades, facilities management, and rail operations, and allows them to put their skills to the test on museum grounds. The museum’s cafe is a social enterprise run by graduates and students of the Franciscan Center Dignity Plates Culinary Training Academy; proceeds go toward enhancing that program.

“We love to throw that word ‘diversity’ out there,” Barbour said, but there are few places where true, engagement diversity occurs.”

Jasmine Vaughn-Hall is a neighborhood and community reporter at the Baltimore Banner, covering the people, challenges, and solutions within West Baltimore. Have a tip about something happening in your community? Taco recommendations? Call or text Jasmine at 443-608-8983.

More From The Banner