Historic Foley Part I – Railroad Museum
On Wednesday, a drive to Magnolia Springs to check out the Magnolia Spring RV Park was on our itinerary. Breakfast first of course! Last year we had gone to the Foley Coffee Shop for breakfast so we thought we would give that a try this year.
It turned out to be an interesting experience! Very friendly people, good food and reasonable prices. About halfway through our meal, an older gentleman, probably in his 80’s, sat at the table next to us. When I looked over at him, I immediately said to Rob – he looks exactly like my father (who died in 2006) – it was uncanny! Rob started a conversation with him by commenting on his bright blue suspenders adorned with fish. In the subsequent conversation which followed it turned out that Roy was originally from the area but moved to New Jersey after the service where he became a tug boat operator. He had all sorts of interesting stories about his experiences in the New England area as well as his interest in Nascar racing and fishing. We must have talked to him for well over an hour. He goes there every day for breakfast so when we left we told him we would be sure to come back before we left.
Downtown Foley is a pleasant departure from the typical retail hubbub found along Route 59 with its outlets, stores, restaurants, hotels, amusements (want to go bungee jumping?), water slides and miniature golf. Heading north on Route 59 or west or east on Route 98 away from the touristy areas, the area is actually quite pretty – rolling hills, green pastures, lots of horse or cattle farms, nice homes (and a few developments) and small towns. Pine trees, live oak trees with hanging Spanish moss, magnolia trees and pecan trees line the roadways. If there were mountains as a backdrop and no Spanish moss or pecan trees, you’d might think you were in Vermont or New Hampshire!
We were talking the other day to a woman in Fairhope about the Pecan trees (who by the way pronounced it puh-kahn unlike some others who make it sound like a synonym for a toilet (pee-can) and she said “you’ll know it’s Spring here when the puh-kahn trees start leafing! And then two weeks later it will be summer!” Since all the puh-kahn trees are naked, I guess Spring hasn’t arrived yet! You can spot them in the fields because they are usually planted in neat rows – most around here are quite large and as big as some of the old live oaks.
Anyway I digressed…..brimming with it’s rich history and Southern hospitality, Foley is a very picturesque little town that has a lot to offer especially in the not so great weather that we are having! Development began here by Charles B. Foley, a wealthy Chicago businessman in the pharmaceutical business, who visited the area in 1902 after hearing good things about Baldwin County on his way to McKinley’s funeral the prior year. Foley bought up 50,000 acres of land, some of which he donated for schools and churches and selling other parcels to settlers and businessmen. Using some of his own money, in 1905, he paid to lay rails so people would have a better way to come to Foley. The first railroad station was built in 1905 which later burned and was rebuilt in 1908.
The original station is now the home to Foley’s Railroad Museum. Although small, the museum is free, is staffed by volunteers and has all sorts of interesting memorabilia. They also have a Model Train Exhibit which is only open on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. It wasn’t open during our first visit but we returned on Thursday to see the display. It is well worth a visit!
An immense O-gauge model train layout, the display is 24 feet by 60 feet and utilizes more than a quarter of a mile of track. O-gauge has a scale of 1:48 or 1 inch = 4 feet in the real world.
Most of the display was donated by Alan Goldman of Montgomery, Alabama while some things such as the Ferris wheel have been built by volunteer staff members.
The level of detail is astounding. There are street lights that change color, a burning building with firemen carrying damsels in distress, a firehouse with a door that opens as the fire truck pulls out with the firemen sliding down a pole, a miniature drive-in movie with an actual movie playing, a street car complete with announced stops, a Ringling Brothers Circus big top complete with a turning Ferris wheel, an oil refinery, an animated car wash, a drive-in burger joint and so much more. It would be impossible to describe it all.
On our way out, we stopped to chat with one of the volunteers, John, who is 81, originally from the Netherlands but now living in Toronto. He spends several month here in Foley and is a volunteer at the train museum. Well, it turned out he used to be a sailor and an RV’er. He was giving us pointers on traveling in an RV to Canada, particularly New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador. Interesting guy but boy, oh, boy can he talk! I think we were there at least two hours chatting with him!
If you are interested, below are a couple of videos of the trains in action!
In addition to the Railroad Museum, Foley also has other historical places to visit but we’ll write about those as separate posts just to keep you, our audience, from falling asleep.
That evening we went to Shipp’s Harbor Grill, one of our favorite restaurants in the area for dinner – stay tuned for more details about that!
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