Miniature railroad centennial celebrated in Brookville

A good crowd visited the Bowdish miniature railroad display Saturday at the History Center in Brookville. Saturday marked the 100-year anniversary of the first display. (By Randy Bartley)

A century in miniature was celebrated Saturday at the Jefferson County Historical Society.

Youngsters of all ages descended on the History Center in Brookville to mark the centennial of the Bowdish Miniature Railroad.

Charles Bowdish, a disabled veteran of World War I, opened his first model train display at his home on Creek Street. The electric trains that zoomed around his display were novel for the time.

Model train manufacturer Lionel had debuted its first electric train in 1901, and those trains were for the display windows in stores and not for sale to the public.

Electricity was still relatively new and not available in many rural areas for years to come. It was no wonder that people stood in line for hours waiting to see the trains.

Bowdish was not satisfied with only trains however. He handcrafted local buildings to compliment the trains.

Bowdish only opened his exhibit during the holiday season and removed it after Christmas.

He continued his tradition until 1954 when his display was moved to Buhl Planetarium, in Pittsburgh where it became known as the Christmastown Railroad. Nearly 24,000 visitors saw his first Pittsburgh show.

In 1992, the display was moved to the Carnegie Science Center and became known as the The Miniature Railroad & Village. The new permanent exhibit was 60 percent larger and had nearly 100 animations and more than 250,000 miniature trees.

Many of Bowdish’s original models are still included in the display.

When the Jefferson County Historical Society opened the History Center in 2001, one room was set aside for the new railroad display, and a dedicated group of volunteers built the 350-square-foot display.

The display has more than 200 feet of track with six engines and 44 rail cars. There are more than 100 animations scattered among the 50 structures.

“We take pride in continuing the tradition of Charlie Bowdish,” said Vickie Storey, the coordinator of the exhibit. “We hope to continue teaching history in miniature for many years to come.”

For additional information, people can call the Jefferson County Historical Society at (814) 849-0077 or visit