Visitors at the Railroads on Parade model train museum in Pottersville gaze at several of the detailed cityscapes created by Clarke and Barbara Dunham, world renowned set designers. The Dunhams are looking for a new financial backer or a new location, or both. Courtesy photo
Railroads on Parade, the world-class museum of model trains complete with lavish million-dollar layouts, may be moving away from Pottersville if a new venue with more tourist traffic is secured.
That’s not all that’s in the works.
The displays, created by the internationally acclaimed set designer Clarke Dunham and his wife Barbara, may be liquidated unless a new financial backer steps forward.
The museum, lauded at its debut in 2010 as a major new tourist attraction in northern Warren County, is “in dire financial straights,” Barbara Dunham stated in an email to the Adirondack Journal this week.
Clarke Dunham confirmed the warning on Aug. 5, noting that patronage of his museum has not met his and Barbara’s expectations.
“Our current investor wants out, and we need to pay back a $450,000 note,” he said. “If we can’t line up that sum, I lose everything and Pottersville loses its major attraction.”
The Railroads on Parade museum has been lauded as having potential as a national attraction — and providing a welcome boost to tourism in northern Warren County that was. The museum features cityscapes crafted in intricate, realistic detail.
Expected to bolster the local economy, the museum has not yet met its potential, Dunham said. He said the reason for its shortfall has been that not enough money has been spent on publicizing the venue.
Dunham is the creator of the famed Citicorp train display in New York City as well as extensive model train layouts in Cincinnati, Chicago, Omaha and Williamsburg, Va. that have been viewed by more than 5 million people, and have been hailed as national attractions.
In addition to seeking out financial backers, Dunham has sought to relocate his model train displays to new locales with greater existing tourist traffic.
Dunham said Tuesday that he’s been considering relocating the displays, or the entire museum, to Lake George, Glens Falls, Plattsburgh, Glens Falls, Albany and elsewhere.
He said Bill Dow of the Lake George Steamboat Co. has visited the Railroads on Parade museum, seen the train layouts, and suggested they be relocated in a proposed addition to the old Lake George train station, now used as a gift shop for the lake-cruise enterprise. The concept never progressed, Dunham said.
Another potential site in Lake George, Dunham said, was Towers Hall on the Fort William Henry Resort property, a hall that is used only occasionally. Negotiations to site the Railroads on Parade displays there resulted in an offer from the Fort officials that wasn’t financially feasible, he said.
Another proposal was to relocated to Glens Falls, either in the former military armory on Warren St. or another building near both The Hyde and the World Awareness Children’s Museum. Such a location would create a “museum row,” with each venue bolstering the others’ success, he said.
The Champlain Valley Transportation Museum in Plattsburgh, Dunham said, has expressed interest in hosting the displays. Richard Soper, the transportation museum’s Director of Exhibits said Aug. 5 the museum’s executives thought the model train displays would provide an outstanding new attraction to the museum, but the transportation museum didn’t have the $450,000 to pay Dunham to purchase them. The museum now hosts 37 rare vehicles, including two antique Lozier automobiles, a train locomotive, an antique fire truck and the entire Gates Diner, a converted train car once situated in downtown Bolton Landing.
Dunham said that Pottersville didn’t have the tourism traffic he originally thought could be developed. When the museum was under development — the Wells House, a historic hotel — was being run as an upscale bed and breakfast enterprise. But within a few years, it was shuttered and in foreclosure. Stage Coach Antiques, an outlet housed in a historic building and hosting a dozen or so dealers, also closed down.
Dunham said that he still has faith in the resurgence of Pottersville, considering the new investments in businesses that have been taking place this year.
“We may be at the beginning of a new business cycle,” he said.
Despite of the precarious finances, the museum is open. On Aug. 5, it had 101 visitors, and it has hosted as many as 200 per day this summer, Barbara Dunham said. Railroads on Parade is open until Labor Day from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Past Labor Day, it is open for another month on weekends only.
Assisting the Dunhams in their effort to explore relocation opportunities has been Ed Bartholomew, President of Warren County Economic Development Corp.
Bartholomew said that a community with existing robust tourism would provide the traffic necessary for the museum to flourish. He said he wanted to see the museum stay within Warren County if possible.
“It’s a terrific collection of model train displays and a wonderful tourist attraction,” he said. “But it may take a collective effort for this project to be successful.”
Town of Chester Supervisor Fred Monroe said that he hoped Railroads on Parade would remain in Pottersville, as the museum was an important asset in his town.
“I hate to lose the museum — it’s a great attraction and the Dunhams have outstanding talent,” Monroe said. “The lack of tourist traffic is very unfortunate — I would like to see the museum not only survive, but thrive.”
Clarke Dunham said the museum’s financial survival was personally important to him and his wife.
“Understand that I don’t want to see half of my life’s work turn into splinters,” he said.