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Funds Sought to Rehab Railroad Roundhouse as Museum

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
April 19, 2018
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Editor's Note: The author has a conflict of interest. See conflict of interest note, below.

(Photo courtesy Regional Industrial Development Corp.)

Two groups have announced an effort to preserve the McKeesport Connecting Railroad roundhouse at the former U.S. Steel National Works site.

In a press release, the recently formed Steel City Chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, Inc., and the McKeesport Preservation Society said they will hold a fundraiser at Teutonia Mannechor on Pittsburgh's North Side at 5 p.m. June 16 to kick off their effort.

Tickets are $50 for members of the railway society and $75 for non-members.

The groups envision reusing the building, which once serviced steam and diesel locomotives for the railroad, as the "Western Pennsylvania Railroad and Transportation Museum."

(Photo courtesy Regional Industrial Development Corp.)

“It is great knowing there is so many interested people wanting to see this project grow,” said Kevin Varrato, founder of the Steel City Chapter, in the press release. “Pittsburgh is finally getting a way to bring together all of the rail history enthusiasts in the area, and this museum will be a wonderful addition to the local community for future generations to come and learn about railroading in the Steel City.”

Built in 1906, the 22,700-square-foot building is located at 201 Center St. and owned by the non-profit Regional Industrial Development Corp., which has developed the Industrial Center of McKeesport on the former National Works site.

Tim White, senior vice president of development for RIDC, said he is aware of the preservation effort, but that no agreement has been made to sell the building, or dedicate it for a museum.

The roundhouse is next to the laboratory and offices of PurePenn, which is extracting chemicals from medical cannabis.

"We've been looking for a tenant for a while, searching the market for folks to take on the redevelopment of it," White said. "But we're in need of a user who can fundraise and pull together the resources and funding."

RIDC has had "very preliminary" discussions with the Steel City Chapter and the McKeesport Preservation Society, he said. "They're trying to fundraise and hopefully, they can pull something together," White said. "Anyone that could restore that building and make it an asset to the city and the trail would be amazing."

The McKeesport Preservation Society is led by city resident Mary Ann Huk, who previously announced efforts to restore a number of historic homes on Shaw Avenue, the Penn-McKee Hotel and the former Eagles lodge on Market Street.

Although the society did secure a state historical marker for the Penn-McKee, its building preservation efforts have not been successful, and Huk has had a difficult relationship with local officials.

In 2006, Huk and her husband sued the city after officials demolished a carriage house the couple owned, citing safety concerns. City officials also fought Huk for ownership of the Penn-McKee and over the demolition of the Eagles.

Varrato, a former railroader and rail history enthusiast, said in the press release the museum would celebrate and preserve "the important role railroads played in Western Pennsylvania’s Industrial Revolution."

The museum would include railroad archives, a scale model railroad layout, locomotives and rolling stock from the Mon Valley’s industrial past, Varrato said.

Additional plans for the museum will be discussed by Huk and Varrato at the June 16 event, which also will include a buffet supper of authentic German food and imported German beer.

“We hope this event and fundraiser will be remembered as the milestone event for rail history enthusiasts in Western Pennsylvania,” Huk said in the press release.

The McKeesport Connecting Railroad was a U.S. Steel subsidiary that was formed to operate the railroad tracks inside the National Works site, and connect the plant's mills and furnaces to other railroads.

The company's formal existence ended in 2013, but the roundhouse was closed many years earlier.

There was a previous attempt to create a railroad museum at the McKeesport Connecting Railroad roundhouse. A locomotive and several railroad passenger cars were stored at the roundhouse in the 1990s, along with several vintage buses and motor coaches.

The railroad cars and buses were evicted in the early 2000s.

A group of students from Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College conducted a feasibility study of turning the roundhouse into dining, exhibition or event space, and concluded that although redeveloping the site would be "a challenge," it could be "an attractive place for entrepreneurs and could support a destination restaurant or hotel."

RIDC had been hopeful that the roundhouse might attract a brewpub, White said, but would not stand in the way of the museum.

"We would be very supportive --- if they can pull together the resources," he said.

(Conflict of Interest Note: In the interest of full disclosure, the author of this article was involved in the negotiations over the Penn-McKee, and had a difficult relationship with Huk and the McKeesport Preservation Society.)

If You Go:

The Teutonia Mannechor is located at 857 Phineas St. in Pittsburgh's Deutschtown neighborhood. The fundraiser begins at 5 p.m. June 16. Doors open at 4:30 p.m. Special prizes will be given by raffle. Admission is $75 for non-members and $50 for members of the Steel City Chapter of the R&LHS. For more information, email steelcitychapter@gmail.com.

Originally published April 19, 2018.

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