During our visit to Baltimore we were invited to the B&O Railroad Museum (B & O standing for Baltimore and Ohio). So on a lovely bright morning we walked from our Inner Harbor hotel along Pratt Street until we saw the unmistakable round building of the museum.
B&O Railroad Museum: A quick history
In 1829, on the very site of the existing B&O Railroad Museum, the first commercial long-distance track was laid. This led to the first passenger station and the title of being the ‘Birthplace of American Railroading’.
The B&O, as well as being the first commercial long-distance railroad, was also a place where innovations were tried out. This includes being the track on which the first American-built steam locomotive was introduced. Also, the first air-conditioned train ran first on the B&O Railroad.
The museum has nearly 200 locomotives and rolling stock that illustrates railroad technology from 1830 through to the present day. You can also view thousands of small artifacts (tools, uniforms, furniture, presentation silver, fine art works etc) as well as large collection of scale models and toy trains.
B&O Railroad Museum: Roundhouse
The Roundhouse is an amazing building. Designed by architect E. Francis Baldwin, it was originally a passenger car shop. When built it was the largest circular industrial building in the world, covering more than an acre of ground and extending 125 feet into the sky.
On 16 February 2003, Presidents’ Day, half the Roundhouse’s huge roof collapsed under the weight of a record-breaking snowfall. Tons of snow, slate, wood and iron fell onto some of the most important trains and rolling stock. A structural engineering study after the roof collapse discovered flaws in the original building designs. It took 22 months to restore, but was re-opened to the public on 13 November 2004.
Visiting the B&O Railroad Museum
The B&O Railroad Museum is very family-friendly. You can tell this as you enter the shop … toy trains everywhere! There are interactive elements to the visit – the first you come across is a hologram head introducing the museum to you. Then you have lots of model trains (a definite hit with Toby) to look at before entering the Roundhouse. At this point you look up and all in unison say ‘Wow’ (trust me, you do!)
The Roundhouse central turntable leads off to many locomotives and carriages. There’s a LOT to take in: so much to see. Dotted around you’ll find museum staff who are incredibly knowledgeable and will answer all your questions. The locomotives in the Roundhouse – because of their historical importance – are in the main ‘look but don’t touch’. But there’s lots for children to do in this building, once they get ‘all trained out’. There is the B&O Train Carousel – made especially for the museum. This is usually outside, but in the winter is brought into the Roundhouse for young visitors to ride. There is also a Choo Choo Blue Kid Zone, tucked behind the carriages in the Roundhouse. Here young train enthusiasts can build wooden tracks and put together carriages to make their own railroad to play with. They also hold story times in the Kid Zone and interactive sessions.
Outside the Roundhouse you can visit some locomotives 🙂 One carriage has even been converted into a miniature railway! The maintenance building lets you get up close to some HUGE trains – Toby stood in front of a wheel and was shorter than it! You can sit ‘up front’ in the driver’s seat too – the children loved that.
The museum also has a café, a small outdoor play area, and an outdoor model railway that the children loved setting off by pushing the buttons. I saw a poster for children’s parties at the museum too, along with toddler mornings – so there’s definitely a lot for the young ones here.
Knowing that Millie-Mae and Toby would flit between the exhibits, and knowing that Huw would want to read every info board, I walked around with the children leaving Huw behind! We did a few laps to his one, but everyone enjoyed their visit. A lot was learned, and we had much fun.
We would certainly recommend a visit here if you are in the Baltimore area. It truly is fascinating, and the Roundhouse building is awesome!