The history of transportation is the history of America itself. Restless adventurers pushing the boundaries of the new world, business tycoons striving to link together points of trade and families yearning to set down roots in far away, prosperous locales all contributed to the infrastructure supporting train, automobile and boat travel. They ultimately created the lattice work of American transportation. The symbiotic relationship between man and machine can be experienced in these unique New York State museums, devoted to the passion and romance of rail, sea and road.
New York Museum of Transportation
6393 E. River Rd.
West Henrietta, NY 14586
A perfect destination for a trip back in time, the New York Museum of Transportation is open all year round on Sundays only. The museum features a collection of antique fire trucks, trolley cars, ambulances and a steam locomotive. There is also an operating model railroad that will fascinate collectors of miniature trains and delight children. Memorabilia and artifacts tell the story of the local transportation history of Western New York and the individuals who forged its early beginnings. Miniature exhibits crafted by local historian Donovan Shilling, featuring early Victorian cityscapes and an Erie Canal lock as it appeared 150 years ago are a must-see, as is the railway art of local engineer Harold Russell. Don’t miss out on the one-hour trolley rides, which feature a bonus, guided tour of the nearby Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum, dedicated to preserving the story of the early railroad era of Western New York. The trolley ride transports you to another era at local Midway Station, where you can board an authentic railroad track car and enjoy the scenic splendor of Genesee Valley as it swirls by.
Champlain Valley Transportation Museum & Kid’s Station
12 Museum Way
Plattsburgh, NY 12903
The Champlain Valley Transportation Museum was originally founded to tell the story of Lozier Motors, a luxury car manufacturer of high reputation during the Brass Era of automobile manufacturing. The museum slowly broadened its scope to include the fascinating story of land and sea travel in the Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence Seaway, as well as Plattsburgh’s extensive transportation history. Built on the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base, the museum includes the Bill Gates Diner, a café nestled inside a trolley car which was originally owned and operated by Bill and Dawn Gates, the parents of business mogul Bill Gates, Jr. Within the museum is also the experiential, hands-on Kids’ Station, a dedicated children’s museum chock-full of interactive environments, extending beyond the scope of transportation history. The Hot Wheels Exhibit is a favorite among the under 12 crowd. Keep an eye on the special event roster for programs including Tractor Day, Family Movie Night and Making Boats when you plan your trip.
The Buffalo Transportation Pierce Arrow Museum
263 Michigan Ave.
Buffalo, NY 14203
The Buffalo Transportation Pierce Arrow Museum is housed in a former Mack Truck dealership and showroom. The home to a unique and wide array of antique vehicles, historic memorabilia and Pierce-Arrow artifacts, the jewel in this delightful museum’s crown is the Frank Lloyd Wright Filling Station, a one-of-a-kind, fuel filling station designed by the world-renowned architect. The Filling Station was originally slated to be built on a street corner in Buffalo, but construction never took place. In 2002, it was finally built for the first time, as a historical installation for the museum. Wright’s genius can now be witnessed within a glass enclosure adjacent to the museum’s main hall. The museum’s main focus, however, is on the lovingly maintained Pierce-Arrow automobile collection and the stories associated with them. The collection includes the 1919 Pierce-Arrow Intercity Coach and the 1903 Pierce Stanhope.
Medina Railroad Museum
530 West Avenue
Medina, NY 14103
An ode to the rails, the Medina Railroad Museum is one of the largest and most colorful freight depot museums you will find anywhere in the country. Equal parts experiential and informational, the museum houses the most extensive collection of railroad-related artifacts and memorabilia available, but also offers access to a two hour train ride along the magnificent and historic Erie Canal and a whimsical, pajamas-preferred Polar Express Train Ride to Santa’s workshop and the magical North Pole from November through December. Always on view is the ever-in-progress construction of the largest, prototypical HO scale, miniature train exhibit currently in existence.
Antique Boat Museum
750 Mary St.
Clayton, NY 13624
Considered by many to be the seminal, fresh water nautical museum in North America, the Antique Boat Museum located in the 1000 Islands on the St. Lawrence River is surrounded by a 4.5 acre waterfront campus, filled with boats representative of multiple eras of this area’s development. The Museum boasts an astonishing collection of boats and boating artifacts and features boat rides, shows and educational programs for both children and adults, centering on the history of the St. Lawrence River. Representing the River Lifestyle of long ago is glamorous, 106 foot long houseboat La Duchesse, built in 1903 and available for a once-in-a-lifetime guided tour.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.