All Aboard For Depot Museum

<strong>All Aboard For Depot Museum</strong>

By Marla Ballard


SCOTTSBORO – In 1838 the steam trumpet came to America after having been invented in France the previous year. The steam trumpet is better known today as a train whistle. Trains, also known as iron horses, have fascinated people since their invention in the early 1800s. Ferroequinology, the study of railways and locomotives, is prompted by varying reasons; one reason being history. One historical fact; the world’s first travel agency got its start thanks to a train trip.

Trains helped the North win the American Civil War. Control of the railroad in a region was crucial to military success. Throughout the war, railroads enabled the quick transport of large numbers of soldiers and artillery. One of the most significant examples was when Abraham Lincoln sent 20,000 replacement troops more than 1,000 miles from Washington, D.C. to Georgia in just 11 days. 

Train depot museums also captivate ferroequinologists. Scottsboro is fortunate among small towns to have one of three county-wide depots located on the North Alabama Depot Trail. The Scottsboro Freight Depot is one of three remaining pre-Civil War depots in Alabama. The Scottsboro depot saw active service for 132 years, it was built by the Memphis & Charleston Railroad (M&C) in 1861. The museum opened its doors in 2012 after years of planning.

On January 8, 1865, Union troops defended the depot against siege by Confederate infantry and artillery. Although the building has undergone renovations some damage from the battle is still visible. The M&C Railroad played a considerable role in the Civil War, and the depot was of strategic importance in the peace that followed. It served as the commercial center of a growing community. In 1870, the depot was designated as the center of the town.

In 1891, a new passenger depot was constructed, but the original depot continued to be used for freight operations for another 100 years. Visit the museum to learn about the service that was available, the cost of a passenger ticket, how many locomotives the company owned, how safe train travel was, what Robert E. Lee and General Sherman had to do with the train line, what made the M&C line unique, and what led to its demise. A historical marker located outside of the museum is the perfect way to whet one’s appetite before entry.

Thankfully the course of history was not altered by what took place in 1830. A race dubbed the Tom Thumb Race embarrassed the locomotive industry when the iron horse lost to a draft horse, the loss was due to mechanical failure. The advancement of the train industry continued, by the time of the Civil War there were 30,000 miles of train track and by 1916 there were more than 250,000 miles of track. 

Visit the Depot Museum on Fridays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. or by appointment. Admission free. Located at 230 North Houston Street, Scottsboro. For more information visit