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The Evolution of the Southern Railway Historical Association’s Archive: From Shaky Beginnings to a Steady Home

The Southern Railway Historical Association (SRHA) was established in 1986 at the previous Southern Railway’s Spencer Shops, presently known as The North Carolina Transportation Museum. From the onset, both individuals and Norfolk Southern identified the SRHA as an organization devoted to the preservation of Southern Railway’s history. The mutual interests of SRHA and the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum (TVRM) resulted in many people becoming members of both entities.

The merger of Southern and Norfolk & Western in 1982 led to several transformations within both railroads. Company records underwent scrutiny for future use; many were relocated to various NS offices, while others were deemed unnecessary. Thankfully, both the SRHA and the Norfolk & Western Historical Society were ready and willing to preserve drawings and files for their respective railroads.

As the SRHA’s collection expanded, the search for adequate storage that could also serve as a workspace became increasingly critical. The collection continued to grow when NS closed Hayne Shop in Spartanburg and Coster Shop in Knoxville. Subsequently, the archives were moved to TVRM from a warehouse in High Point, NC, that was scheduled for sale.

For several years, the SRHA archives found a home in a semi-trailer, container, and a Central of Georgia railway post office car at East Chattanooga, all parked behind the TVRM headquarters building. However, when TVRM planned to send the car to Savannah in an equipment sale, SRHA recognized the need for another move.

Following negotiations, SRHA relocated their archives to a museum/archive in Cobb County, GA, which was constructing a substantial addition to their building. This arrangement lasted for about thirteen years until a conflict in 2014 led SRHA to file a suit to expedite the removal of their collection. The legal disputes lasted almost a year before the host conceded and allowed SRHA to depart.

The relocation phase began in February, with the intention to load all items in approximately a dozen containers and have them stored in Chattanooga until a new archives building could be constructed at TVRM. As fate would have it, on the very day they started loading the containers, TVRM’s President, Tim Andrews, noticed a “For Sale By Owner” sign on a building on Turntable Road, located adjacent to Grand Junction. His quick thinking initiated the process that led to TVRM, along with donations from several SRHA-TVRM members, buying out the tenant’s lease-purchase agreement and purchasing the entire building.

Over the past eight months, the building has metamorphosed into a designated archive storage and workspace, aptly titled “The Center for Southeastern Railroad Research at TVRM.” This center houses the SRHA materials, including books and photos from several other railroads. Other Southeastern railroad historical groups have also been invited to transfer their archives to the building.

With the new archives, it is hoped that TVRM’s status as THE operating railroad museum and railroad history center in the Southeast will be amplified. TVRM members and all railroad researchers are warmly welcomed to visit and utilize this impressive facility. Indeed, the long journey of SRHA’s archival materials has finally found its home, paving the way for more enriched historical research and preservation.

S&C 4th QTR 2018